The native highbush cranberry is a multistem shrub that grows to 4 m tall in woods and thickets. It grows in a wide range of conditions and tolerates wet soil and partial shade.
Clusters of white flowers with 5 petals bloom in May and June.
The outer flowers in the cluster are showy and sterile. The central flowers are small and produce very tart bright red fruit. With enough sugar it makes a good jam. Wildlife usually leave it alone until the end of the winter, when warmer days allow the fruit to ferment.
Leaves are opposite, simple and with three lobes, each lobe with a pointed tip. The petiole or leaf stalk is grooved and has glands at the base of the leaf (just visible in the photo).
The native and introduced plants are very similar and distinguished by minor features like the shape of the glands at the leaf base.
The native highbush cranberry generally has stalked glands with rounded tips. The glands on the introduced and invasive (V. opulus L. subsp. opulus) are concave or saucer shaped. It also
prefers drier sites. Other Viburnums have a variety of leaf shapes and similar flowers, but no others in Wisconsin have glands on the petioles.
The showy spring flowers, bright fall foliage and red fruit make highbush cranberry an attractive landscape plant. The plants spread easily by seed.
Origin of the name: Viburnum, L., name for the wayfaring tree, V. lantana; opulus, an old generic name for the guelder rose or snowball bush
Range: Circumpolar, in N. Amer. south to VA, MO, ID
WI Range: Statewide
Common associates: sugar maple, green ash, red-osier dogwood
Wetland Indicator Status: FACW
Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 10 (S&W), C = 5 (MI), C = 6 (WI)