Plants of Ancient Pompeii: Laurstinus (Viburnum tinus)

Laurstinus is an evergreen shrub or small tree native to shrubland and wooded rocky slopes of the mediterranean area of Europe and northern Africa. It is an attractive plant that is cultivated in modern times for its winter flowers and fruits than enliven the garden at a time when few plants are growing. Although no evidence for the plants presence in ancient Pompeii has been found, it is shown in ancient garden wall paintings preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, and grows in the the Pompeii area in modern times. The ancient Roman writer, Pliny the Elder (d 79 AD), mentions the plant in his Natural History as part of his discussion about laurels, and calls it tinus.

There is the tinus for instance, by some considered as a species of wild laurel, while others, again, regard it as a tree of a separate class; indeed, it does differ from the laurel as to the colour, the berry being of an azure blue. 

Pliny’s second choice of classification is correct as laurutinus in not related to laurel, and is in the moschatel family, Adoxaceae, that also includes elderberries.

Photo Credit Alvesgaspar-Wikimedia-Commons.

House of the Golden Bracelet, Pompeii (Photo credit Wikipedia)

Description: The plant usually grows up to 12′ tall, is densely branched, and rapidly grows into a rounded form. The opposite, narrowly ovate to oblong leaves are up to 4″ long, and have lustrous dark green topsides and pale green undersides. In late winter, 4″ wide, flat, terminal clusters of pink buds appear and open to fragrant white flowers that attract butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. The bright metallic blue berries that follow are 1/4″ across and eaten by birds. The plants are valued in modern times for use in a border and as a hedge or screen and would be a good background shrub for the back of the border in a ancient Roman inspired garden.

Size: 8-23′ H x 6-10′ W

Light: Full sun to part shade

Soil: Moderately fertile, medium moist, well-drained

Hardiness: USDA Zones 8-10