The Guelder Rose

Austria - Scott #2098 (2007)
Austria – Scott #2098 (2007)

It’s “random stamp day” on A Stamp A Day and I happened upon this one from Austria picturing the plant and fruit of Viburnum opulus (common name guelder-rose or, in German, Gewöhnlicher scheneeball). This is a species of flowering plant in the family Adoxaceae (formerly Caprifoliaceae) native to Europe, northern Africa and central Asia. The name ‘guelder rose’ relates to the Dutch province of Gelderland, where a popular cultivar, the snowball tree, supposedly originated. Other common names include water elder, cramp bark, snowball tree and European cranberrybush, though this plant is not closely related to the cranberry. Some botanists also include the North American species Viburnum trilobum as V. opulus var. americanum Ait., or as V. opulus subsp. trilobum (Marshall) Clausen.

Viburnum opulus is a deciduous shrub growing to 13-16 feet (4–5 m) tall. The leaves are opposite, three-lobed, 2-4 inches (5–10 cm) long and broad, with a rounded base and coarsely serrated margins; they are superficially similar to the leaves of some maples, most easily distinguished by their somewhat wrinkled surface with impressed leaf venation. The leaf buds are green, with valvate bud scales.

Viburnum opulus plant with fruit. Photo taken by Jan Mehlich on July 14, 2007
Viburnum opulus plant with fruit. Photo taken by Jan Mehlich on July 14, 2007
Snowball flowers – Photo taken on April 18, 2014

The hermaphrodite flowers are white, produced in corymbs 2-4 inches (4–11 cm) in diameter at the top of the stems; each corymb comprises a ring of outer sterile flowers 1.5–2 cm in diameter with conspicuous petals, surrounding a center of small (5 mm), fertile flowers; the flowers are produced in early summer, and pollinated by insects. The fruit is a globose bright red drupe 7–10 mm diameter, containing a single seed. The seeds are dispersed by birds.

The guelder rose is grown as an ornamental plant for its flowers and berries, growing best on moist, moderately alkaline soils, though tolerating most soil types well. Several cultivars have been selected, including ‘Roseum’ (synonym ‘Sterile’, ‘Snowball’), in which all the flowers are only of the larger sterile type, with globular flower heads. There is some confusion, as there are a few other plants, including other members of the genus Viburnum, also referred to as “snowball bush”.

The shrub is also cultivated as a component of hedgerows, cover plantings, and as part of other naturalistic plantings in its native regions.

Viburnum opulus flowers (left) and fruit

It is naturalized in North America, where it is called “European cranberrybush” (although it is not a cranberry).

The cultivars ‘Compactum’, ‘Roseum’ and ‘Xanthocarpum’ have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

The fruit is edible in small quantities, with a very acidic taste; it can be used to make jelly. It is however very mildly toxic, and may cause vomiting or diarrhea if eaten in large amounts.

The term cramp bark is related to the properties of the bark’s ability to reduce smooth muscle tightness. It is called cramp bark as relieving this type of muscle tightness is most often associated with relieving women’s menstrual (period) cramps. However, this can also be used during pregnancy for cramps or pain and general muscle cramping.

Viburnum opulus (kalyna) is one of the national symbols of Ukraine and Russia. In Russia, the Viburnum fruit is called kalina (калина) and is considered a national symbol. Kalina derived in Russian language from kalit‘ or raskalyat‘, which means “to make red-hot”. The red fiery color of the berries represents beauty in Russian culture and together with sweet raspberries it symbolizes the passionate love of a beautiful maiden, since berries were always an erotic symbol in Russia. The name of the Russian song “Kalinka” is a diminutive of Kalina. Viburnum opulus is also a important symbol of Russian national ornamental wood painting handicraft style called Khokhloma.

Viburnum opulus berries in Novosibirsk, Siberian Russia. Photo taken on September 12, 2005.
Viburnum opulus berries in Novosibirsk, Siberian Russia. Photo taken on September 12, 2005.

Mentions of the bush can be found throughout the Ukrainian folklore such as songs, picturesque art, Ukrainian embroidery, and others. “Chervona Kalyna” was the anthem of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Its symbolic roots can be traced to the Slavic paganism of millennia ago. According to a legend kalyna was associated with the birth of the Universe, the so-called Fire Trinity: the Sun, the Moon, and the Star. Its berries symbolize blood and the undying trace of family roots. Kalyna is often depicted on the Ukrainian embroidery: towels and shirts. In Slavic paganism kalyna also represents the beauty of a young lady which rhymes well in the Ukrainian language: Ka-ly-na – Div-chy-na.

Scott #2098 was issued by Austria on August 25, 2007, one of five stamps (Scott #2096-2101) released in 2007 as part of the Flowers series which first appeared in 2004. These were designed by R. Galler, printed by photogravure in sheets of 50 and perforated 13¾ x 14. Dandelions are pictured on the 4-euro cent value (Scott #2096), Scotch laburnum on the 10-cent stamp (Scott #2907), violets on the 100-cent denomination (Scott #2099), Gentian on the 110-cent stamp (Scott #2100), and Clematis on the 140-cent (Scott #2101).  Scott #2098 has a denomination of 65 euro cents. There were 20,000,000 copies printed of this stamp.

Flag of Austria
Flag of Austria
Coat of arms of Austria
Coat of arms of Austria

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