One of the most striking ornamental bushes is the snowball viburnum. The bush can grow up to 12 feet but is easy to keep in a lower habit. Snowball viburnum produces huge balls of florets in mid- to late spring. You should ask your county extension service which plants might be poisonous to your children and pets before adding them to your garden. The snowball bush is not considered highly toxic to humans or animals, but it can cause stomach upset if ingested.
The snowball bush is native to Europe but was introduced to the United States during colonial times. The snowball bush produces no berries, but there is a similar plant that does. The other plant is called the European cranberry bush, and it produces smaller flowers and berries. The berries on the cranberry bush are poisonous to animals. The non-fruiting version, snowball bush, is believed to have originated in Holland. It was named the Gelder rose, which is an adaptation of a Dutch name.
The snowball viburnum is sterile, which means its huge blooms do not produce fruit or seeds. The flowers are similar to a hydrangea, and the plant has been mistaken for a macrophylla. Viburnum have oval leaves that terminate in a point and are lobed. The plant is deciduous and loses its leaves in fall -- but not before turning a lovely cranberry orange colour. The bush itself is multistemmed and has graceful arching branches. Flowers are produced at the ends of the branches.
Snowball viburnum is classified as a Category 4 plant by the University of Arkansas. This means it is not toxic to humans. The lack of fruit means it shouldn't interest wildlife or children. Some of the viburnum species do bear toxic berries, but this is not the case with the snowball. The fertile plant of the breed does have fruits that can cause a mildly upset stomach if eaten.
The United States Department of Agriculture has listed the viburnum as a "palatable browse" for animals. It is also listed as a grazing species. The plant's leaves and stems have no ill effects in livestock or wild grazers such as deer. The plant has no real draw for animals either, as it doesn't taste very good. After lean winters the new leaves may be in danger from browsing deer, but you don't have to worry that they will be poisoned. Domestic animals are also safe around the plant.