Monday, January 10, 2011

Setting the Table

Everybody survive the holidays? It was a busier than usual time for me, and if getting back to the blog is a precursor for getting my life back to normal, it will be a welcome change.

Now where were we? Ah yes, preparing for company and setting the table. In my best getting ready for the holidays analogy, we'll use native plants as a way to "set the table" for wildlife.

American or High-bush Cranberry, Viburnum opulus L var. americanum is useful- however- a bit confusing. This animal magnet, with its red, ripened berries is not related to our native cranberries (Vaccinium sp.) at all! Viburnums are a member of the Caprifoliaceae or honeysuckle family. These woody plants, mostly shrubs, vines or small trees are found worldwide and the attractive flowers and berries are the reason so many species are imported for landscapes.

Too often these non-native plants become nasty playmates with the local flora. Several species of honeysuckle are considered invasive species and have bullied their way into our natural areas. And just like some evil twin- there is also a non-native European Cranberry bush, Viburnum opulus var. opulus which is often sold in plant nurseries and box stores.

These photos taken from Wikipedia were listed as American High-bush Cranberry. But I am not so certain both plants shown make the grade. European Cranberry generally have more "teeth" on its leaves (like the leaf on the left), and the fruit is said to be slightly bitter.
The only sure-fire way to tell these two plants apart is by the presence of a small club-shaped gland on the underside of leaf near the petiole. And I'll bet you can't find one-in-one-thousand garden store workers who know that. This is quite possibly the most frequently mis-labeled plant in Ohio!
And what does it matter? I am not positive the European Cranberry is about to explode into an invasive species, nor do animals shy away from its slightly less yummy fruits. But if I were to plant viburnum bushes for wildlife, I would make every attempt to get the true native.
One of the most attractive and productive plants for bird-scaping (landscaping to attract birds), the American Cranberrybush can be one of the most confusing of our native plants as well!


  1. I love Viburnums in general but this is one of my least favorite. The insects like it too much.

  2. If the insects like it- it is twice as good!!!

    What can be better than a bush that provides birds with both protein (insects)and berries? This plant is really "Bringing Nature Home!"