This large native shrub has a dense, rounded form and large, deep green, lobed leaves that look a bit like maple leaves. American cranberry bush often develops fall colors of yellow, orange, red, and purple. In spring, it bears wide, flat flower clusters. These lacy flowers have an outer ring of large white florets with many smaller white florets in the center. The clusters of rounded fruit that follow turn from green to yellow-orange to brilliant red in the fall and often hang on the plant through the winter.
Common name: American cranberry bush; American cranberrybush viburnum; highbush cranberry
Botanical name: Viburnum trilobum
Plant type: Deciduous shrub
Zones: 2 to 7
Height: 8 to 15 feet
Family: Caprifoliaceae, honeysuckle family
Sun: Full sun or partial shade (flowering and fall color may be reduced in shade)
Soil: Prefers moist, well-drained soil. Tolerates a range of conditions; adaptable to a range of soil pH
Moisture: Needs ample moisture; prolonged drought stress causes poor growth or even death
Mulch: Apply 2 to 4 inches of organic mulch such as wood chips around the base of the plant.
Pruning: Occasionally thin out older stems to rejuvenate the plant.
Fertilizer: Apply a balanced fertilizer once a year, if desired.
• Cleaned seeds need a 2- to 3-month warm stratification followed by a 1- to 2- month cold stratification before they will germinate.
• Softwood cuttings taken in midsummer root readily.
Pests and diseases
• Stem borers can damage or kill stems. Stressed plants are more susceptible to borers.
• Aphids sometimes attack new growth at branch tips.
• American cranberry bush makes an excellent informal hedge or screen. Its dense branching even provides some screening during the winter.
• Birds will eat the bright red fruits, but often not until the fruit softens and ferments a bit in late winter or early spring.
• The fruit can be used to make jam or jelly, though some folks consider it a bit stinky when it's being cooked down.
• ‘Alfredo'--Grows 5 to 7 feet tall with compact form and less fruit than the species.
• ‘Bailey Compact' (‘Compactum')--Grows 5 to 7 feet tall with compact form and red fall color.
• ‘Redwing'--Upright, rounded form. 8 to 10 feet tall with red fall color and lots of bright red fruit.
• ‘Wentworth'--Grows 10 to 12 feet tall with large fruits.
All in the family
• American cranberry bush is similar in many ways to European cranberry bush (V. opulus). Some plant scientists think many cultivars of American cranberry bush are actually hybrids of the two species.
• The honeysuckle family contains a number of popular ornamental shrubs, including viburnums, honeysuckles (Lonicera), elderberries (Sambucus), Weigela, Abelia, bush honeysuckle (Diervilla), and beauty bush (Kolkwitzia).
(Text by Nancy Rose, photo by Amy Sumner)