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Portland Nursery

American Cranberrybush

To me this month’s native plant is a horticultural “sleeper.” The plant is fairly obscure and nobody is going crazy writing about its virtues, yet it is a stellar native shrub that will add a firecracker of color in the fall and winter to any garden, and attract birds throughout the winter besides! Relatively disease and pest free, what’s not to love?

Well, during the spring it’s a green plant, nothing very showy. But that’s okay; there are tons of spring bulbs and early perennials that are more than willing to take center stage at this time of year. Think of your V. trilobum as a ready and willing green backdrop to your garden stage.

viburnum tribolum

I personally like the lacecap-type flowers. So the delicate blossoms that appear in early summer I think are quite lovely indeed. Crisp white against the lush green foliage. Clean and unfussy while the bright and more bawdy annuals take center stage throughout the summer.

viburnum tribolum

But then in early fall the foliage of the V. trilobum begins to turn reddish (notice how much yellow fall foliage there is here in the Willamette Valley?). Then the berries appear: Crimson, succulent pearls in clusters that practically vibrate with the intensity of their color!  It demands attention and becomes a focal point in the late autumn garden. The berries persist into winter, attracting birds and providing a perfect wildlife plant and vibrant garden specimen all in one!

Native to Oregon? Yes, though just barely, it seems. More common in the northeast, but also in the northern reaches of the west coast, into southern Washington, and my sources tell me, also into Oregon. So yes, I declare it a native. Plant it and love it and revel in the beauty it brings to your garden.

If it has a down side, it’s that is likes a fair amount of moisture, so isn’t a good candidate for xeriscaping, but if you have a wet area where you have disconnected a downspout or where water naturally tends to accumulate, you have a spot for this stunning native! It doesn’t require full sun though it would take it happily enough, and it wants well-drained soil….it doesn’t require a wet area, but would prefer it….in our climate, this shouldn’t be hard to accommodate, and this plant is so worth the effort to find just the right spot!

Peggy Acott

Photo credits to Pat Breen, Oregon State University and Peggy Acott, Portland Nursery

symphocarpis alba

Viburnum trilobum
American Cranberrybush


Family: Caprifoliaceae

Genus and species: Viburnum trilobum

Common Name:  American Cranberrybush

Origin: Northwestern and Northeastern United States

Characteristics: This Viburnum grows as a multi-stem shrub, rounded in habit, 8-12’ tall and wide.  Dark green, lobed, textured leaves followed by showy lace-cap type flowers in early summer. 

Stunning fall red foliage color and clusters of brilliant red berries that persist into late winter.  Fruit attracts birds to the garden.

Culture: This plant wants moist, well-drained soil, in full-to-partial sun

Pests/Diseases: not many.  Viburnum borers can be a problem to a plant that is already stressed, usually because of lack of water.