If you look closely at the blossoms, you will see they are clusters of small yellowish flowers in the centre and showy white flowers around the edge. The showy flowers are not fertile and will fall off when the other flowers are pollinated and begin to form fruit. The leaves of the high bush cranberry are similar to a maple leaf but with three distinct lobes, hence the Latin name trilobum. Sometimes the leaves have a smooth margin, or edge, and sometimes they have some teeth or serrations. Variability can exist on the same shrub.
Range: The high bush cranberry is native to every province in Canada.
Habitat: The High bush cranberry can be found in wet areas such as in thickets along shorelines, swamps and forest edges. In a garden setting it can tolerate a variety of soils, although moist well-drained soil is best. While it prefers full sun, it can also handle partial shade.
Primary Ecosystem Roles:
While the berries are not a favourite of many birds, they are a very important survival food as the winter progresses. Ruffed grouse, cedar waxwings, thrushes, robins, cardinals and grosbeaks are among the birds that feed on its fruit. Mammals such as deer, moose, red squirrels and beaver may feed on the various parts of the high bush cranberry.
In addition to food, the bushes also provide birds with shelter from the elements and hiding places from predators.
Text and photography by Sarah Coulber
For the native plant enthusiast with enough space for a shrub, the high bush cranberry may be the perfect choice. Like other Viburnums, it can be striking. The Viburnum trilobum has pretty white blossoms that adorn the plant in the late spring and are followed by large clusters of bright red berries by the end of summer. Later, the foliage puts on a show with plenty of fall colour. This species of high bush cranberry can grow to from two to four metres tall, unlike the Eurasian variety, which is typically shorter.
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The high bush cranberry is sometimes called Viburnum opulus var. americanum (trilobum), as some consider it a subspecies of the Eurasian variety. Others tend to refer to it simply as Viburnum trilobum. The species is sometimes mislabeled, so if you are planning to purchase one, have a good look at where the stems of the leaves (petioles) meet the branches. The glands of the Canadian native have stalks while the others don’t.
Caring for a high bush cranberry is relatively easy. For eastern Canadians, watch out for the larvae of the viburnum leaf beetle, which feed heavily on the leaves. These European beetles have been known to slow growth and even kill bushes if they continue year after year. To prevent this, check branches for small black casings; if you find them, snip off those branches at the end of the winter before they hatch. Put the branches in the garbage to ensure they don’t spread any further.
The high bush cranberry is native to every province in Canada in wet areas such as in thickets along shorelines, swamps and forest edges. In a garden setting it can tolerate a variety of soils, although moist well-drained soil is best. While it prefers full sun, it can also handle partial shade.
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If you have a friend with a high bush cranberry and want to grow your own, you could propagate your own plants with the seeds. Take the berries when they are fully ripe (a nice bright red), plant them in soil and wait. They are known to take about two years to germinate, as they need some warm weather, followed by cold, followed by more warm before they show signs of growth.
You can also take a woody cutting, dip it in rooting compound and then plant it in a light soil. Leave it in a spot with indirect light until it shows signs of growth.
If you are interested in buying native plants for your area, check out our Native Plant Supplier List.