The cranberry bush, also known as cranberrybush, features tart red berries that appeal to both people and wildlife. A favorite side dish at Thanksgiving and Christmas, cranberries require some cooking to soften the berry. Nowadays, cranberries are a successful commercial crop in Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, and New England.
Wild cranberry bushes are found in wet woodlands and along streams and other water sources in the northern United States and in southern Canada. A member of the honeysuckle family, wild cranberrybush reaches up to 12 feet in height and width. Cultivated varieties tend to form denser, more compact bushes. In the early spring, small cream-colored flowers fade into green fruits that eventually turn bright red in the fall. The plant's foliage also turns shades of red, yellow and orange in autumn.
The American cranberry bush is a native species found in the United States and Canada. This wild bush is found in wooded, moist areas where it grows rather spindly with poor branching habits. Cultivated varieties, on the other hand, tend to produce denser, fully-branched plants for heavier berry production. These varieties include compact plants such as Alfredo Compact American cranberrybush as well as full-sized versions such as Andrews American cranberrybush.
Cranberrybush grows in USDA zones 2 through 7 as long as it receives partial shade to full sun and well-drained soil. Plants grown in full shade do grow, but tend to be more gangly in appearance. The plants prefer higher-than-normal moisture, so extra watering may be required in dryer conditions.
A variety of birds and wildlife like to eat the berries of the cranberrybush, especially in the winter when food is scarce. The berries wilt on the bush if left unpicked, but that doesn't stop the birds from eating the little red sources of vitamin C. The bushes also offer shelter to small mammals and birds, with larger bushes offer nesting sites.
In addition to holiday sauces, cranberries make great additions to baked goods such as muffins and breads. The use of dried cranberries has grown in popularity in the last decade, with the dried fruits being used in a variety of recipes that typically call for raisins. Cranberries also make excellent jams and jellies. Cranberrybush also makes an effective windbreak when planted together rather densely.