In 1753 when Linné gave this shrub the specific name opulus it was a reference to the field or hedge maple (Acer campestre), called by the Romans Opulus, which Guelder rose resembles in some ways, for example in the three-lobed leaves. Guelder rose grows naturally in Finland in rich mires and along streams.
Normally it reaches about 2m in height, with grey angular stems. The flower heads are made up of an outer ring of large showy white but sterile flowers, whose purpose is to attract pollinating insects to the fertile flowers in the centre. In autumn the leaves turn an attractive reddish. Formerly the species was considered poisonous but according to current opinion the red berries are not particularly poisonous, though they taste unpleasant. Occasionally the yellow-berried form (V. opulus f. xanthocarpum) can be found in gardens.
Guelder rose has beautiful flowers and fruit. Both flowers and fruit are most abundant in full sun, but then lots of moisture is necessary. In recent years the species has been troubled in places by the viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni).