1312 Viburnum opulusCommon Names: European cranberry bush,Whitten tree,highbush cranberry,cranberry bush,Guelder rose Family: Adoxaceae (moschatel Family)
European cranberry bush is a much branched, multi-stemmed shrub with opposite three lobed leaves that remind one of a maple’s leaves. The leaves are 3-4 in (8-10) long, dark green in growth and often turning reddish or purplish before dropping in fall. Petioles (leaf stems) have a groove along their length and several raised bumps near where they attach to the leaf. Flat topped flower clusters (cymes) are made up of a few fertile flowers in the center, surrounded by several sterile florets that consist of petals only. The fertile flowers are tube shaped with five lobes and around ¾ in (2 cm) across. The surrounding ray florets are flat petals, each about ¾ in (2 cm) long. Flowers are white and the clusters are around 3 in (8 cm) across. Drooping clusters of bright red juicy berrylike drupes around ¼ in (6 mm) in diameter often persist into winter. The fruits look superficially like cranberries. They have a single large seed and a sour, cranberry-like taste.
Several cultivars have been selected. ‘Aureum’ starts out with yellow shoots that eventually turn green. ‘Compactum’ is a bushy little shrub with dense foliage and gets just 5 ft (1.5 m) tall. ‘Nanum’ is even smaller, usually staying under 2 ft (60 cm) in height. The fruits of ‘Xanthocarpum’ are yellow. ‘Roseum’ (also called ‘Sterile’ or snowball bush or just snowball) has very showy spherical cymes consisting only of sterile flowers a half inch (1.3 cm) across. The flowers of ‘Roseum’ are tinged with pink and its leaves turn purplish in fall.
American cranberry bush (V. opulus var. americanum), also known as highbush cranberry, and formerly called V. trilobum, is very similar. The best way to tell the two varieties apart is a technical feature of the leaf petioles: The bumplike glands on the petioles of the American variety are convex (bulging outward) on their tips; the gland tips are concave in the European variety. It is said that the American variety produces much better tasting fruits, too.
Viburnum opulus is native to much of Europe and parts of northern Asia and northern Africa where it grows in wetland and mesic habitats. It has escaped cultivation in the northeastern United States and in Ontario, and is considered invasive in some areas. In the New World the interloping European cranberry bush grows in disturbed wetlands, along roadsides, old fields and other ruderal situations.
Cranberry bush has a moderate growth rate of up to 3 ft (1 m) per year. It is among the easiest of shrubs to care for. Light: Grow this deciduous viburnum in part shade or in full sun Up North. Moisture: European cranberry bush likes a moist but well drained soil of near neutral pH. Established plants can tolerate moderate droughts. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 8 . Propagation: Sow seeds in autumn. Fast growing greenwood stem tips can be rooted.
European cranberry bush is at its most attractive when in fruit. Viburnums are used in shrub borders, as specimen plants, in woodland gardens, and in hedges. European cranberry bush is especially well suited for hedges since it has a dense, rounded habit with crowded branches and foliage. It responds well to pruning. Best to prune right after flowering, although this will reduce fruit production.
Cranberry bush is monoecious: The fertile flowers are hermaphroditic, and only one plant is needed to produce fruits. The fruits are edible, but not very good. They are tart and acidic to the taste, but high in vitamin C. They can be eaten raw, but are better when cooked and made into preserves, jams, jellies, or sauces. In Russia the berries are sometimes fermented for wine and distilled to make a brandy. The fruits are relished by wintering birds.
A decoction of the bark, called “cramp bark”, is used medicinally in Europe to treat spasms, cramps, convulsions and heart palpitations. A fluid extract is listed in the United States Pharmacopeia and National Formulary for use as a neurologic sedative and anti-spasmodic in the treatment asthma and hysteria.
The viburnums, sometimes called arrowwoods, are a genus of some 225 species of shrubs and small trees mostly native to temperate America, Asia, and Europe. Some are evergreen, some deciduous, and all have opposite leaves and five-lobed flowers. Viburnums are among the most popular ornamental shrubs in cultivation in Europe and North America. Most have attractive flowers and fruits, are easy to maintain, and stay smallish.
Steve Christman 7/15/18