Who doesn’t love the gorgeous snowball viburnum? The name “snowball bush” refers to seven different viburnum plants, each of which has its own unique traits and benefits. Specifically, the Eastern snowball and Chinese snowball are two popular species. Both of these trees are absolutely stunning, but they do have some key differences that are important to know when choosing between them.

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about the Eastern snowball viburnum and the Chinese snowball.

Comparing Eastern Snowball Viburnum vs. Chinese Snowball

Eastern Snowball Viburnum Chinese Snowball
Classification Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile Viburnum macrocephalum
Alternative Names European cranberrybush Chinese snowball viburnum
Origin China, Europe, Northern Africa China
Description A cranberrybush or shrub that is deciduous and grows up to 15 feet tall with a rounded appearance. A rounded shrub that reaches as high as 20 feet tall and offers whitish green puffball-shaped blossoms.
Uses Mostly used for landscaping but is also used in traditional medicine to treat stomach problems. Mostly used for landscaping as a border tree.
Growth Tips Plant in rich and moist soil. Only prune a third of new growth at a time. Plant in somewhat acidic and well-drained soil. Allow up to eight hours of direct sunlight per day.
Interesting Features The fruit from this tree is edible and can be used to make jams and jellies. Has excellent resistance to disease.

Key Differences Between Eastern Snowball Viburnum and Chinese Snowball

While both of these trees are vibrunums and are considered snowballs, there are quite a few differences between them.

To start, the Eastern snowball viburnum and the Chinese snowball viburnum are two completely different species. There is also a notable difference in their appearance. The Eastern snowball has gold, yellow, and white flowers. The Chinese snowball has green and white flowers. The Eastern snowball bloom also has a saucer-like shape, while the Chinese snowball has a more star-shaped appearance to its flowers.

There is also a notable difference in where these bushes come from. While both plants are native to China, the Eastern snowball is also native to areas of Europe as well as Northern Africa. The Chinese snowball is also semi-evergreen, while the Eastern snowball is not. The Chinese snowball is also much larger, reaching up to 25 feet tall over the Eastern snowball’s maximum height of 16 feet.

Viburnum macrocephalum, common name Chinese snowball
Viburnum macrocephalum, common name Chinese snowball, has green and white flowers with a star-shaped appearance.

luckakcul/Shutterstock.com

Eastern Snowball Viburnum vs. Chinese Snowball: Classification

Though the Eastern snowball and Chinese snowball are part of the same genus, Viburnum, they are each separate species. As members of the Viburnum genus, they are both related to shrubs including the nannyberry, possumhaw, blackhaw, and arrowwood. The Eastern snowball is classified as Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile’. The Chinese snowball is classified as Viburnum macrocephalum.

Eastern Snowball Viburnum vs. Chinese Snowball: Description

The Eastern snowball viburnum is a common shrub with natural ranges in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It boasts eye-catching drupes, blooms, foliage, and autumn coloring. The Eastern snowball has flat-topped cymes that are two to four inches broad with gold or white flowers. Fertile tiny blooms are surrounded by larger sterile flowers. Although it prefers humusy, wet, well-drained soil, it can thrive in a variety of soil types and pH levels. Although it is frequently utilized as a hedge or in a shrub border, alternative options should be taken into account because it is weedy. USDA Zones 2 – 8 are suitable for growing this tough plant.

The Chinese snowball viburnum is a popular deciduous blooming shrub. It has a spherical vase-shaped appearance and can reach heights of 25 feet and widths of 20 feet. It is indigenous to the Chinese mainland. Snowball viburnums have extremely large flowers compared to others in the genus. It is a tough shrub that grows in USDA Zones 6 – 9. It is tolerant of pruning, prefers wet, acid-rich, well-drained soils, and is tolerant of other environments. In the spring, this shrub produces an abundance of spherical, dome-shaped, sterile flowers, and in certain places, it also produces a flush bloom in the fall. The flowers begin as chartreuse and shortly turn white.

Eastern snowball (Viburnum opulus 'Sterile') flower
The Eastern snowball has flat-topped cymes that are two to four inches broad with gold or white flowers.

I, KENPEI, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons – License

Eastern Snowball Viburnum vs. Chinese Snowball: Uses

The snowball viburnum shrub with all of its varieties and species is used for landscaping or ornamental purposes. The snowball bush is an excellent focal point for the middle of a big yard or for the corner of a foundation planting because it is simple to maintain and care for. Due to its beautiful flowers and berries, it is frequently grown as an ornamental plant. Snowballs add a lovely spring and fall spectacle to any landscape because they are semi-evergreen. With leaves that turn purplish-red before falling in the fall, this deciduous, colorful blooming shrub will be covered in masses of pure white, snowball-like flower clusters in the late spring.

In addition to being a landscaping plant, the Eastern snowball also has been used in traditional Chinese medicine. Like the Eastern snowball, the Chinese snowball is primarily used for landscaping.

Eastern Snowball Viburnum vs. Chinese Snowball: Origin

The Eastern snowball is native to China, Central Asia, Europe, and northern Africa. The Chinese snowball is (of course) native to China. Both plants were introduced to the United States sometime in the 18th century as garden shrubs.

Eastern Snowball Viburnum vs. Chinese Snowball: How to Grow

The Eastern snowball will grow pretty large, so keep that in mind when deciding where to plant your sapling. Choose a location where the bush will get enough sun and have room to grow to its full size. In general, full sun is desirable for an Eastern snowball shrub, especially in the chilly northern regions of its habitat. To produce the largest quantities of blossoms, the snowball bush prefers at least six hours of sunlight each day. Although it does well in a variety of soil types, this plant loves loamy, well-drained soil. Although it can endure a wide pH range, it likes soil that is mildly acidic. Because it dislikes dry soils, water your Eastern snowball bush frequently enough to keep the soil evenly moist. One inch every week is the recommended pace, but if it’s extremely hot outside, you should prepare to water it more frequently.

The Chinese snowball is just as simple to cultivate as the Eastern snowball. In a spot with slightly acidic, well-drained soil and exposure that provides it with six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. The shrub should be planted in a prepared hole at the same depth as in its nursery container, and for the first year after planting, it should be kept extremely well hydrated. Before planting, dense clay soils should be supplemented with lots of organic material. They should be at least 10 feet apart because this is a big shrub. Maintain consistent soil moisture throughout the year. The watering schedule will change depending on the local climate but setting one up and following it will assist the Chinese snowball put on the most beautiful bloom display.

Eastern snowball (Viburnum opulus 'Sterile') in bloom
The snowball viburnum with all of its varieties and species is used for landscaping or ornamental purposes.

Viburnum opulus sterile in bloom by John Baker, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons – License

Eastern Snowball Viburnum vs. Chinese Snowball: Special Features

The Eastern snowball is a tough deciduous shrub with enormous mophead blooms that resemble hydrangeas. It is also technically an artificial hybrid. This attractive shrub, which can grow to pretty high sizes quickly, will draw attention to one’s landscape. The colorful flowers will look lovely in a bouquet and draw butterflies, but they won’t produce a mass of fruit. The Eastern snowball can resist heat and cold very well, and deer are not frequently attracted to it.

In one’s yard, Chinese snowballs can definitely stand out. Blooms the size of softballs that start out lime green before opening to sparkling white are all throughout the Chinese snowball. The magnificent spherical white blossoms of the Chinese snowball can reach up to eight inches in diameter. These large, ornamental shrubs are simple to maintain, provide substantial screening, and can really catch visual attention. This shrub has almost no severe insect or disease issues and is particularly adept at fending off bacterial leaf spots and fungal ailments like powdery mildew that afflict other Viburnum species.

If you’re looking for a very large shrub, the Chinese snowball viburnum would be a good choice, as it topples over its Eastern snowball cousin. However, if you want a classic gold-white snowball to add a touch of luxury to your landscape, the Eastern snowball is definitely a good choice. Whichever you opt for, either of these trees can make an excellent addition to any landscape or garden.

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