American vs European High Bush Cranberry Viburnum

Another post in our series on native alternatives to invasive plants.

In 2005, after moving into our current house, we purchased a variety of bareroot native shrubs from the DNR to naturalize in the yard. These shrubs included Nannyberry Viburnum, High Bush Cranberry Viburnum, American Hazelnut and Red Osier Dogwood. With two years of drought they were very slow to establish until the following years when we had adequate rainfall. I noticed that some of the High Bush Cranberry were growing substantially more than others in the same area and were already flowering.

 

 

 

 

European High Bush Cranberry petiole glands

In the winter of 2008, as my High Bush Cranberry Viburnums (HBCV) had really taken off that previous summer, I was reading the book Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest by the late Elizabeth Czarapata. In her book she describes how the European HBCV is invasive and is so similar in appearance to the native American HBCV that it’s often mistaken for the native.

The main difference between the American and European High Bush Cranberry Viburnum is the gland shape on the leaf petiole.

I anxiously waited for spring and for my HBCV to leaf out so I could investigate these glands. On the European HBCV, the glands are larger, more numerous and concave or ear shaped. On the American HBCV, the glands are smaller, narrower and rounded on the top. It turns out that 70% of my HBCV were in fact European.

European High Bush Cranberry leaf

Other differences include:

  • Growth Rate (European has a higher growth rate),
  • Fruit
  • and Leaf Shape.

The European HBCV “leaf lobes are shorter and less pointed, and its fruit are bitter, causing birds to avoid them.” (Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest, Czarapata, Elizabeth). The fruit on the European HBCV persist longer into the winter as the birds avoid them until there isn’t anything else available.

 

 

 

The birds do feed on the fruit however, as this is believed to be the primary way it has naturalized in wetland edges, riparian areas, and other lowland moist sites in southern Minnesota. It is also prevalent in states eastwards to Maine including Ohio and Pennsylvania. “It [European HBCV] seems to compete more aggressively than the native high bush cranberry and is better able to withstand habitat disturbances. In the area around the Twin Cities and southward, the European species is now more common than the native species.” (Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota, Smith, Welby R.)

 

 

 

European High Bush Cranberry naturalized along a stream (fall color)

After speaking with natural resources professionals, I learned that local native nurseries as well as the DNR were unknowingly propagating the European HBCV from softwood cuttings of wild stock and their own stock which they believed was the American HBCV. They have since checked all of their stock and now only sell the native HBCV.

European HBCV is widely sold at local nurseries. Check the native ones too as they could be unknowingly propagated from the European HBCV.

Here’s some common cultivars sold at nurseries:

European High Bush Cranberry Viburnum
Compact European Cranberry - Viburnum opulus ‘Compactum’
Dwarf European Cranberry Bush - Viburnum opulus ‘Nanum’

American High Bush Cranberry Viburnum
Bailey Compact  - Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’
Hahs American Cranberry  - Viburnum trilobum ‘Hahs’ 
Redwing Highbush Cranberry  - Viburnum trilobum ‘JN Select’
Wentworth Highbush Cranberry  - Viburnum trilobum ‘Wentworth’

Distribution of the European High Bush Cranberry

For more photos of the European High Bush Cranberry, visit the Invasive.org website.

© 2012, Heather Holm. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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    About Heather Holm

    Heather Holm is an horticulturalist, photographer & graphic designer who is passionate about native plants, landscape restoration and observing, attracting and documenting wildlife in her yard. Her 2/3 acre landscape in suburban Minneapolis is a Certified Monarch Waystation and received a first place award from the watershed district for the "Best Landscape Restoration" in 2009. She is an active member and volunteer of Wild Ones (Twin Cities Chapter) promoting the preservation and use of native plants in the home landscape. She also volunteers her time with her municipality in landscape restoration projects and writing grant proposals for restorations. She is also author of the popular blog, Restoring the Landscape With Native Plants and the corresponding facebook page.

    Comments

    1. Ellen Sousa says:

      Great info Heather! This has been an issue of confusion for many of us that buy, grow and propagate native shrubs…I have a Wentworth but also 2 “species” that I planted as pollinators – I’m going to check the petioles on those as soon as possible even though they were labelled as “AHBCV” – just in case they were mistakenly propagated from EHBCV stock…
      Ellen Sousa recently posted..When Life Gives You Storm Damage, Make Habitat!

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      • Heather Holm says:

        Hi Ellen,
        Yes I see more and more Cranberry Viburnums along wetlands – many of which I think are the European. With them being so similiar, it’s easy to have made this error. I hope yours are all native!
        Heather Holm recently posted..High Bush Cranberry Viburnums – Native or Not?

        Reply
    2. Donna@ Gardens Eye View says:

      Heather, I planted several native American High Bush Cranberry Viburnums last spring. I am hoping they do OK and return for the spring. How strange that they were unknowingly propagating non-natives…just shows it can happen to the best of us as we think we are planting natives to find we are not…great lesson Heather on the viburnum and once I see my bushes in bloom and with berries I will know if I have a true native or not.
      Donna@ Gardens Eye View recently posted..Exploring Color-Orange on GBBD

      Reply
      • Heather Holm says:

        Hi Donna,
        I think labelling is an issue at some nurseries where the species name is dropped so you can’t be sure what you’re buying sometimes. Like Ellen, I hope your shrubs are all native too.
        Heather Holm recently posted..High Bush Cranberry Viburnums – Native or Not?

        Reply
    3. Pat Sutton says:

      Heather, can’t thank you enough for this GREAT info to help us all educate ourselves and others. Much appreciated. Looking forward to spring to be sure the ones I purchased and planted are indeed the American High Bush Cranberry Viburnum and not the European and will be sure to pass along your article to others purchasing for Native Plant Sales.
      Pat Sutton recently posted..Mourning Cloaks in the Garden

      Reply
      • Heather Holm says:

        Good luck Pat. It sounds like many of us have planted these natives.
        Heather Holm recently posted..High Bush Cranberry Viburnums – Native or Not?

        Reply
    4. thevioletfern says:

      Great info! I am sincerely hoping the cranberry viburnum I planted last spring is native. I purchased it from a trusted source, a nursery that supports Wild Ones, but I will have to try to determine if it is indeed an American based on your information here.
      thevioletfern recently posted..What’s Blooming: Paperwhites

      Reply
      • Heather Holm says:

        Kathy – I hope you have the native one too!
        Heather Holm recently posted..High Bush Cranberry Viburnums – Native or Not?

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    5. Cori Rose says:

      Thanks Heather. Clearly useful information to have in my toolbox when I purchase more viburnums for my yard this spring. Unfortunately the (hopefully) unintentional switch out still happens even at the large wetland mitigation site scale. I had something similar happen with a 10 ac wetland mitigation site in CT where we had to have the owner remove all of the European stock after it was placed and replant with verified natives. What a mess it was!
      Cori Rose recently posted..Portrait of the Oak

      Reply
      • Heather Holm says:

        Cori – That sounds like a huge job to change out shrubs in a project that large. I bet it was worth the work though. Thanks for sharing this.
        Heather Holm recently posted..High Bush Cranberry Viburnums – Native or Not?

        Reply
    6. Sharon Swope says:

      Do the European and American High Bush Cranberry Viburnum cross breed?

      Reply
      • Heather Holm says:

        Hi Sharon,
        According to Welby Smith in Trees & Shrubs in Minnesota, hybridization between the two is possible “the native genotype could be altered by introgression from the European genotype”.
        Heather Holm recently posted..Native Plant of the Week: Pale Corydalis ~ Corydalis sempervirens

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    7. Scott Namestnik says:

      Another useful characteristic in distinguishing American highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus var. americanum, V. trilobum) from European highbush cranberry (V. opulus var. opulus) is the pubescence on the leaf surface. On the native the upper leaf surfaces have appressed, thinly distributed hairs, whereas on the non-native the upper leaf surfaces have no hairs. Also, be sure to check the glands on the petioles closely. On more than one occasion, I’ve had someone tell me that the plant they were looking at had both types of glands, or that the plant they were looking at must be the native because it had columnar glands (only for me to excitedly take a look to find out that in fact the glands were the characteristic saucer-shaped glands of the non-native). Here in Indiana, American highbush cranberry is state endangered, and I’ve only seen it in the state on one occasion (and that includes the many times where it has supposedly been planted in restorations or native landscaping projects). In northern Wisconsin, where I also do a little bit of work, American highbush cranberry is abundant. When you’ve seen them both, it’s fairly easy to see the difference. Regarding the glands, those of the non-native will often be turned to the side, so that if you look from the top they will not appear saucer-shaped, but if you look from the side (still at the apex of the gland, however), it will be saucer-shaped. I think that this is a large part of the confusion at native plant nurseries. Also, the nomenclature can cause confusion, as the native and non-native are sometimes both treated as varieties of Viburnum opulus.

      Reply
      • Heather Holm says:

        Thanks for all these extra identification features Scott! Very helpful and knowledgeable as always. I’ve seen many in northern Wisconsin, it’s good to know that most are the native type.
        Heather Holm recently posted..High Bush Cranberry Viburnums – Native or Not?

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        • Sue Sweeney says:

          very helpful article.

          Reply
    8. Ellen Honeycutt says:

      Very informative and a good teaching post for those looking to find these details. Your pictures are very helpful.
      Ellen Honeycutt recently posted..Native Evergreen Conifers in North Georgia

      Reply
      • Heather Holm says:

        Thanks Ellen, I hope to take more this summer of both the native and European to have better comparison photos.
        Heather Holm recently posted..High Bush Cranberry Viburnums – Native or Not?

        Reply
    9. Loret says:

      First, I must say that I am a little on the slow side (ok…a LOT on the slow side) and had to look up DNR = Dept. of Natural Resources (my brain was thinking don’t start my breathing, but I knew that couldn’t be right ;) ).

      Cranberry is a little out of my zone (ok, WAY out of my zone ;) ), but your point about buying plants, from what should be reliable sources that prove to be non-native is rather scarey. How wonderful that you are savvy enough to have notice and shared this story with us all so we can be alert to similar situations with other plants. Great information!
      Loret recently posted..Making a Comeback

      Reply
      • Heather Holm says:

        Loret – sorry for the short forms :) Do not resuscitate if you find these shrubs! I agree, I think we need to be aware of characteristics of plants, as I commented to Donna, often things are not labelled correctly.
        Heather Holm recently posted..High Bush Cranberry Viburnums – Native or Not?

        Reply
    10. Julie Stone says:

      While researching shrubs to plant as “living bird feeders” I saw mentioned on numerous occasions, usually in forums, people saying that birds aren’t eating their Viburnum berries. Perhaps they unknowingly have European varieties. I “think” I planted 7 American Cran. Bush Viburnums in the past year, now I’m worried. Thanks for this info!
      Julie Stone recently posted..Rant of the Month…

      Reply
      • Heather Holm says:

        Julie,
        I hope you have the right kind. Is this part of your recent December purchase?
        Heather
        Heather Holm recently posted..Native Plant of the Week: Blue Cohosh ~ Caulophyllum thalictroides

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    11. Debbie Roberts says:

      Heather, Thanks for sharing that difficult lesson learned. AHBC is on my list of shrubs to add to my garden this year so I will be sure to wait until the stock has leafed out in the nurseries before I buy anything.
      Debbie Roberts recently posted..6 Plants for Attracting Beneficial Insects

      Reply

    Trackbacks

    1. Native Shrubs for Southern New England says:

      [...] it with the invasive linden leaf viburnum.  American Cranberry Bush (Viburnum trilobum) is good but often confused with the invasive European – even by the sellers.  I have noticed in the woods that the viburnums which succumb to viburnum beetles are the ones in [...]

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