Ah! Now it makes sense: wrinkly-leaved viburnum

One of the many plants I feel strongly about is Viburnum rhytidophyllum. I am sure gardeners often decide whether they like a plant or not within seconds of seeing it but I slowly became less than a fan of this large, evergreen viburnum the more I had to look at it. It has a rather unfortunate gaunt habit as though limping through your shrub border with severe arthritis and despite the young stems and the back of the leaves being covered in fawn indumentum, which gives it a special feature, the glossy, wrinked leaves are such a dark green that it is almost depressing. The mood is not lightened by the flowers, that have none of the cheery features of so many other species – they are dirty white and small and have no pleasant perfume. With ‘luck’ you get red berries that ripen to black (of course) but I would rather I didn’t so I had no reason to look at the thing. And it saves its most ‘Eeyore’ moment for winter when, in cold snaps, the leaves hang themselves on the branches in a manner that suggests they wish they had dropped off in autumn.

So I was intrigued last autumn (sorry this has taken so long) to see a plant in the Cambridge Botanic Garden, called Rhytidophyllum tomentosum. Here was a tender plant in the same family as such cheerful gems as saintpaulias and streptocarpus, with large, felty leaves and small flowers in greenish cream and blood red that hardly attract attention. It made me wonder what ‘rhytidophyllum’ meant – was it Greek for  ‘depressing’? The leaves certainly had more than a passing resemblance to Viburnum rhytidophyllum.

Well it turns out that the name comes from rhytidos  = wrinkle and phyllum = leaf. Both plants do have wrinkled leaves but it appears that Rhytidophyllum tomentosum is an interesting plant and not just a dull one. Hailing from the Caribbean – Jamaica in particular – it is used in herbal medicine and is known as ‘search mi heart’ or the ‘strong heart bush’ because it is made into a tea that is supposed to relieve some heart symptoms. I am not sure how effective it is but I am glad to know what my least favourite viburnum is all about at last.


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