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ligustrum leaf

Q: I always get confused between viburnum and ligustrum.  They look the same to me.  Can you help me remember how to tell the difference between them? 

A:  Well, let’s start with how they are alike which is why telling them apart may be causing you problems.  Viburnum and ligustrum are both evergreen (although there are some deciduous viburnum) shrub/trees and have glossy green leaves.  The leaves are arranged on the stem the same way which is directly opposite each other.  Both of them are commonly used as a foundation plants in home landscapes and commercial sites. Both of them can grow to heights of about 12 feet. We often see them pruned too short, 2-4 feet, but they would really like to be much taller. Both viburnum and ligustrum can be grown in full sun to partial shade, they require little care, but can both be troubled by fungal leaf spot and piercing/sucking insects. Viburnum has nearly 80 species growing here in the U.S., whereas ligustrum has a much smaller number of varieties.

Now telling the difference will be easiest by looking at a leaf from each shrub. The edge or margin of the ligustrum leaf has no serrated edges or “teeth”.  When you look at the viburnum leaf you will notice the edge or margin of the leaf does show serration or teeth.  The flowers and fruit are different too but you should be able to see the leaves on either of the plants most of the time.  So now, you will always be able to tell the difference between the two shrubs.  It is a great tool to use for helping children or grandchildren become better at observing the world around them – even in your backyard!