This is a shrub with multiple narrow trunks and ascending to
slightly spreading branches. The bark of trunks and branches is gray,
while twigs are brown and glabrous with white lenticels. Young
non-woody shoots are green to reddish green and glabrous. Pairs of
leaves occur along the shoots and twigs. Individual leaves are 2-4"
long and nearly as much across (oval in outline); they are palmately
3-lobed, and sparingly dentate to smooth along their margins. There are
either a few large teeth or they are absent altogether.
The shallow to moderately deep lobes have pointed tips,
while the base of each leaf is rounded. The upper leaf
surface is medium green and hairless, while the lower surface is pale
green and either hairless or hairy along the veins. The slender
petioles are ¾-1½" long, light green to red, and glabrous. Near the
apex of each petiole where it joins the leaf, there are 1-2 pairs of
tiny glands with rounded tops.
These glands may become deformed or nearly disappear as the season
progresses. At the base of each petiole, there is a pair of simple
stipules; they are deciduous and insignificant.
Some of the upper
and outer shoots terminate in flat-headed panicles (cymes) of white
flowers. Individual panicles span about 2-4" across; their branches are
light green to
red and glabrous. Along the outer margin of each panicle, there are
several sterile flowers about ¾" across. Each sterile flower has 5
white spreading petals and a short tubular calyx that is 5-toothed and
green. Within the interior of each panicle, there are many fertile
flowers about ¼" across. Each fertile flower has 5 white spreading
petals, a short tubular calyx that is 5-toothed and green, 5 stamens,
and a pistil. The blooming period occurs during late spring to early
summer and lasts about 3-4 weeks. The floral scent is unpleasant. The
fertile flowers are replaced by
one-seeded drupes that are about 1/3" (8 mm.) across. They become
bright red at
maturity during late summer or early fall. Individual seeds are
about 5 mm. across, nearly orbicular in shape, and flattened. The flesh
of the drupes is tart. The root system is woody and branching.
During autumn, the deciduous leaves become bright red.
The preference is full sun to light shade, wet to moist conditions, and
a boreal climate with cool to moderately warm summers. The soil
should contain decaying organic matter to retain moisture.
The native American Cranberry Bush is a
rare shrub that
is found in widely scattered areas in the upper half of Illinois (see Distribution
Habitats consist of cool moist woodlands,
streambanks in wooded areas, sandy swamps, soggy thickets,
edges of sandy marshes, forested bogs, and roadside ditches.
American Cranberry Bush is occasionally cultivated as an ornamental
landscape plant. Outside of cultivation, this shrub is usually found in
high quality wetlands where the native flora is still intact.
The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract
small bees (mostly Halictid & Andrenid bees), Syrphid flies and
many other flies, and miscellaneous beetles. Both American Cranberry
Bush and European Cranberry Bush are preferred food plants of the moth,
(Rose Hooktip). More generally, see the Moth Table
list of the moth caterpillars that feed on Viburnum spp.
caterpillars of the butterfly, Celastrina
feed on the flowers and buds of these shrubs. Other insect feeders
(Viburnum Leaf Beetle), the wood-boring
larvae of Oberea schaumi
(Long-Horned Beetle sp.), and various plant
bugs (Lygidea viburni
The following aphids have been found on American Cranberry Bush: Aphis
, and Ceruraphis
. The bright red
fruit is eaten by the Ruffed Grouse and other birds, particularly
during the winter when other sources of food are scarce. White-Tailed
Deer browse on the twigs and leaves.
Along a building of the Illinois Natural History
Survey in Champaign, Illinois..
American Cranberry Bush has attractive flowers, foliage, drupes, and
autumn coloration. Because birds consume the drupes sparingly, they
often persist during the winter. The edible drupes have a tart flavor
that is similar to cranberries. However, it is best to use them before
a hard frost occurs, which can degrade their flavor. American Cranberry
Bush is very similar to fertile cultivars of European Cranberry Bush
and it is sometimes regarded as a variety of this
latter shrub (Viburnum
The European Cranberry Bush
occasionally escapes from cultivation. It prefers habitats that are
similar to those of American Cranberry Bush and it is potentially
invasive. These two shrubs differ from each other as follows: 1)
American Cranberry Bush has petiolar glands with convex upper surfaces,
while the petiolar glands of European Cranberry Bush have concave
upper surfaces; 2) the stipules of
American Cranberry Bush are simple and deciduous, while the stipules of
European Cranberry Bush are bristly and more persistent; 3) the leaves
of American Cranberry Bush have fewer teeth (or no teeth) along their
than the leaves of European Cranberry Bush; and 4) the drupes of
American Cranberry Bush
are reportedly less sour and bitter than those of European Cranberry