The American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum) is a part of the Honeysuckle family and grows across the northern part of the northeast United States and into southern Canada. Called high bush cranberry in some parts of the country, the species has use as an ornamental shrub or small tree. The American cranberry bush makes an excellent hedge or barrier plant and can attract birds and small mammals with its flowers and fruit.
The American cranberry bush grows 8 to12 feet high, according to the University of Connecticut Plant Database website, with a spreading crown as wide as the bush grows tall. It is deciduous, losing its three-lobed leaves in the fall. The leaves have a trident shape and are dark green, about 2 to 5 inches long. The leaves change to red, orange and burgundy shades in the fall. The bush will have dense branches when existing in the open where it gets full sun, but it will be more sparsely branched in the shade.
Flowers and Fruit
The flowers of the American cranberry bush bloom in early June and have both male and female parts. The flowers are cream-colored and are attractive, with the flat-topped clusters containing several larger white bracts, or modified types of leaves, on the perimeter of the bunches. The flowers develop into the fruit, which is about a third of an inch long and contains a seed. The fruit is green at first but then becomes a brilliant red. It is edible, and many animals and birds will eat it. Those that persist into the winter shrivel up on the branches.
The geographic range of this species extends from almost all of Maine through New Hampshire and Vermont and into western portions of Massachusetts. From there the cranberry bush grows in upstate New York, northern Ohio, Upper and Lower Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, northern Illinois and eastern North Dakota. The range extends through southern parts of Canada from New Brunswick to Manitoba.
The plant grows best in a well-drained damp soil with an acidic pH level. It can adapt if necessary to growing in drier ground with alkaline or neutral pH levels. The cranberry bush will reach its maximum potential in an area that gets full sunshine but will also do all right in partial- to full-shade conditions. The cranberry bush handles transplanting well. The shrub is susceptible to a certain kind of stem blight that can affect entire branches right down to ground level.
Several cultivars of American cranberry bush are available for ornamental and landscaping purposes. Among them is Alfredo, which grows to 6 feet tall and has red autumn foliage. The Andrews variety is compact and dense and produces excellent fruit. Compactum is a common hybrid of the cranberry bush featuring spreading and upright branches on a 6-foot-tall shrub. Edible fruit of high quality is the highlight of the Wentworth hybrid, which also has red leaves come autumn.