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This native viburnum offers ornamental interest throughout the seasons; flowers in spring, red fruit in late summer, and red fall color.  This American species (Viburnum opulus var. americanum; syn. Viburnum trilobum) is a better choice than the similar European cranberry-bush which has become an invasive plant in some areas.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.    

  • Family (English) Elderberry
  • Family (botanic) Adoxaceae
  • Tree or plant type Shrub
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Medium shrub (5-8 feet), Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 2, Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7
  • Soil preference Alkaline soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Occasional flooding, Road salt, Wet sites
  • Season of interest mid spring, late spring, late summer, early fall, mid fall
  • Flower color and fragrance White
  • Shape or form Arching, Multi-stemmed, Round, Upright
  • Growth rate Moderate

Size and form:

American cranberry-bush grows 8 to 12 feet high and wide. It is often upright and multi-stemmed, rounding with age. 

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 10. Commonly found in wet or swampy sites but will tolerate drier sites once established. Native to northern North America, from Newfoundland west to British Columbia, south to Washington state, and east to northern Virginia. 

Bark color and texture

The bark is smooth, gray-brown with large lenticels. It splits into irregular cracks with age.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture: 

Opposite, maple-like, three-lobed leaves are up to 5 inches long. Each leaf has irregular teeth on the margins.  Leaves are dark green changing to a reddish-purple fall color. Petioles are 1 inch long and have flat-topped glands at the base of the leaf blade, which is a good identifying characteristic.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size: 

Flowers appear in June after the leaves emerge. Large 4 to 5 inch white, lace cap flower clusters contain small fertile flowers surrounded by showy sterile flowers.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Red, berry-like fruits (drupes) resembling cranberries are edible.

Plant care:

The American cranberry-bush prefers well-drained to moist soil in full sun or part shade. It is adaptable to soil pH. It flowers on old wood, so prune after flowering. It has a moderate tolerance of aerial salt spray.

 Pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

Viburnum crown borers and viburnum leaf beetle can both be problems for this shrub.

These plants are a cultivar of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits.

Bailey Compact American Cranberry-bush viburnum (Viburnum opulus var. americanum ‘Bailey Compact’):

A compact, dwarf rounded form, this cultivar gets 5 to 6 feet high and wide with a deep red fall color.

Dwarf American Cranberry-bush viburnum (Viburnum opulus var. americanum  ‘Compactum’): 

Compact cultivar growing 5 to 6 feet high and wide, this plant has white lace cap flowers and red fruit.  The fall color is yellow.

Hahs American Cranberry-bush viburnum (Viburnum opulus var. americanum ‘Hahs’):

Selected for better, larger fruit production, this cultiar grows 6 to 8 feet high and wide.  Its dark green foliage turns red in fall.

Redwing® J.N. Select Cranberry-bush viburnum (Viburnum opulus var. americanum ‘J.N. Select’):

Newly emerging leaves have a hint of red. White flowers appear mid-to-late spring.  The bright red fruit is persistent.  The shrub has consistently red fall color, with good flower and fruit production. A Chicagoland Grows™ introduction.


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