Viburnum opulus var. americanum (American Highbush Cranberry)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Adoxaceae (Moschatel)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; moist soil; forest edges, clearings, swamps, fens, shores, banks
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:8 to 15 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FACW
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: flat

[photo of flowers] Flat clusters 2 to 5 inches across from new lateral branchlets of one-year old branches, emerging after the leaves. Flowers are 5-petaled and have 2 forms: around the edge of the cluster is a ring of 5 to 12, showy, bright white flowers up to 1 inch across; in the center of the cluster are dozens of creamy white, 1/8 to ¼-inch flowers. The large flowers are sterile, lacking stamens or pistils, and the small flowers are fertile, with 5 long, pale stamens.

Leaves and bark: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: simple

[scan of leaf] Leaves are simple and opposite, the blade up to 4½ inches long and nearly as wide, slightly rounded to straight across at the base, with 3 lobes each tapering to a pointed tip and can resemble a maple leaf. Edges are coarsely and irregularly toothed to toothless or nearly so. Upper surface is dark green and usually sparsely hairy though may become smooth; the lower surface is paler with fine hairs especially along the veins.

[photo of glands on leaf stalk] Leaf stalks are about 1 inch long, smooth or with a few hairs near the blade, and a shallow groove along its length. At the tip where the stalk meets the blade are 2 to 4 small glands, round to oval in cross-section, flat to convex at the tip. At the base of the leaf stalk is a pair of thread-like appendages (stipules) up to ¼ inch long.

[photo of trunks] New twigs are mostly hairless, green to reddish with raised lenticels (pores), turning tan to grayish brown. Older bark is gray to gray-brown, thin, and smooth to slightly rough. Main stems are up to about 2 inches diameter, typically multiple from base, sometimes arching and rooting where the tip touches the ground, sometimes root suckering.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a shiny, berry-like drupe, ¼ to ½ inch across, turning translucent red at maturity, and containing a single seed.


American Highbush Cranberry, also known as Viburnum trilobum, is a common shrub of moist soils in about 3/4s of Minnesota. It is nearly identical to Guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus var. opulus), an introduction from Europe that's been widely planted as an ornamental and escapes cultivation. The easiest way to distinguish the two is to look at the glands at the tip of the leaf stalk near the blade (magnification is helpful): those of Guelder-rose are typically shorter than wide, oval-elliptic, and bowl or cup shaped (concave) with a distinct rim; those of the native are typically taller than wide, round to oval, flat or rounded (convex) at the tip, and lack a distinct rim. The groove in the leaf stalk is said to be narrow and deeper (more or less V-shaped) in Guelder-rose where the native has a broader, flat-bottomed groove, but this can be variable and is not diagnostic by itself. The native is more likely to have sparse hairs on the upper leaf surface but this is also variable. The two apparently do hybridize, which makes it even more challenging.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Clearwater, Cook, Itasca, Lake, Otter Tail, and Washington counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Donna - St Louis County
on: 2016-06-20 01:56:01

Have spotted these along the roadside in the Sax-Zim Bog area

Posted by: Chris H - Devil Track Wildflower Sanctuary outside Grand Marais
on: 2017-05-29 13:54:16

We have hundreds of these bushes in the WFS. Up to 6 feet tall

Posted by: cheryl b - elm creek park reserve
on: 2017-08-16 03:57:38

Spotted a few in Elm Creek Park Reserve.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-08-16 05:47:58

Cheryl, almost everything in the metro area is the European cranberry. It's likely that's what you found, though it's not impossible it was the native.

Posted by: judith m brisson - linwood township in anoka county mn
on: 2018-08-28 18:48:36

I just spotted two bushes full of berrys in the woods behind my house I took pictures but no way to post them here. maybe I will make my own cranberry jelly for thanksgiving this year!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2018-08-28 18:56:37

Judith, if you found highbush cranberry in the metro area you can bet it is not the native, but the European introduction var. opulus, guelder-rose. I don't know how edible it is.

Posted by: Carly Ann Austin-Kukowski - Goodview,
on: 2019-11-05 10:49:41

This grows near the fishing dock in the new park in Goodview right off Hwy 61!

Posted by: Mary Connolly - Wisconsin
on: 2020-06-25 17:37:37

I have 15 Highbush cranberries in my back yard, that I was given when they were seedlings. They are now about 4 feet tall and bushy, but have never born fruit. Do I need to pollinate them somehow? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by: Antoni Stevens - bellingham
on: 2020-08-23 19:47:29

I have read a report printed in I believe the 70s about Viburnum o. Americanum that suggest that this plant was brought to the Americas via Europe and had been "distributed" or naturalize across the country. Im interested, is this a native to America or to Europe and Asia? Any help you can give me would be great. Thank you.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-08-23 21:47:42

Antoni, as noted above, there are two distinct varieties (or species, depending on the reference), one native to North America, one introduced from Europe. Scientific knowledge about plants has advanced a long way since the 1970s.

Posted by: Zenas - Walker
on: 2020-09-12 08:26:00

Observed several along walking trail to Cass Lake. Confused by one point in article - is trilobum the native or opulus? What is likely on hand at garden center for landscaping?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-09-12 08:31:34

Zenas, you are most likely to get the European species unless you purchase from a reputable native plant nursery, and sometimes even they get it wrong. Per the notes regarding Latin names, V. trilobum is a synonym for the native V. opulus var americanum; V. opulus var opulus is the European species. If no var is specified, assume it's not the native.

Posted by: Peter - Washington County
on: 2021-05-21 23:52:28

I believe I have found two of these plants in my neighborhood. I think they're both the American form, not the European form, despite the European form being far more common in my area. The glands are taller than wide, with rounded tops, the groove is wide and relatively flat bottomed, and the leaf surface has sparse hairs. One of the bushes is just a baby, maybe 2-3 years old, and appears to have come from the other. I studied the glands and grooves on the leaves of both individuals, and they appear to be identical to one another, so I doubt it's a hybrid. They're growing in a shaded, damp ditch, about 50 feet away from one another, surrounded by buckthorn, red elderberry, large cottonwood trees, and feral crabapple trees.

Posted by: Terry Gess - Grand Marais
on: 2021-06-21 09:57:54

I have a row of well established V. opulus var opulus (mistakenly planted) and now I would like to add V. opulus var americanum to the row to supply edible fruit. Will the two varieties coexist next to each other or will the edible quality of V. opulus var americanum be lost over time? Thanks.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-06-21 10:45:35

Terry, while the two can hybridize, we don't know how that effects fruit edibility, if at all.

Posted by: Joy L. - Lake of the Woods County near Pitt
on: 2022-08-25 14:21:34

Last year we had hard frosts May 26 and 27. It took care of the blueberries, crabapples and highbush cranberries along with many other fruiting plants. I checked the woods today and am happy to report there are going to be lots of cranberries. Most have yet to ripen and there are going to be lots of yellow and orange ones.

Posted by: Katie - East Bethel, MN (Anoka County)
on: 2022-10-11 16:55:35

Spotted one of these in the Bethel Haunted Forest aka the Bethel Haunted Trail. Which sparked my interest in learning more about what it was. This was very informative. Thank you!

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2022-10-11 17:16:42

Katie, it's a pretty sure bet that what you see anywhere in the Twin Cities metro area is more likely the non-native, var. opulus, guelder rose.

Posted by: JON NICHOLSON - New Hartford Twp., Winona County
on: 2023-09-24 17:38:49

I just now was able to identify a "high-bush cranberry" as a guelder rose, using Minnesota Wildflowers. I viewed "the glands at the tip of the leaf stalk" under a good magnifying glass, as discussed in "Notes" above. I had bought this bush years ago from a nursery in N. Carolina. It has done well here, but the berries are harsher-flavored than the volunteer native that I found growing nearby -- that was my first clue that comething was wrong. I will be killing the guelder rose a.s.a.p. Thanks MW!

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