Appearance''V. opulus'' is a deciduous shrub growing to 4–5 m tall. The leaves are opposite, three-lobed, 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.
The hermaphrodite flowers are white, produced in corymbs 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 , 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.
NamingThe common 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 cranberry bush, 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'' Clausen.
UsesThe 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 cramps. However, this can also be used during pregnancy for cramps or pain and general muscle cramping.
Cultural''Viburnum opulus'' is one of the National symbols of Ukraine. 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. Kalyna Country is an ecomuseum in Canada.
This bush's 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. That consistency was reviewed by numerous Ukrainian folklorists such as Nikolay Kostomarov, Oleksandr Potebnia .
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