Learn about a native viburnum shrub prized by native peoples for its edible berries.
Meet a native viburnum shrub that belongs in any edible landscape. Viburnum edule has a host of common names, one of which is highbush cranberry. White flowers appear from late spring to midsummer, followed by berries that ripen in autumn. Early native people groups in North America prized Viburnum edule for its tasty berries.
The word “edule” in the name Viburnum edule means edible, which refers to the fruit this viburnum produces. That same fruit also gives rise to one of the common names for Viburnum edule, highbush cranberry. The unripe berries have a crunch and sweet and sour flavor that’s similar to a cranberry.
Viburnum edule has several common names, including mooseberry and squashberry. Mooseberry is a clue that moose love feasting on the berries. Other critters like mice and voles also are drawn to the berries for nibbling. The berries beckon birds, which makes Viburnum edule a strong candidate for a wildlife or bird garden. The name squashberry comes form the fact that the seeds inside the berries are flat like a squash seed.
This viburnum shrub is native to North America, typically seen in New England south to a few Mid-Atlantic states, north central states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota) and the Pacific Northwest. It’s also native into Canada, including the Pacific Coast, where Viburnum edule grows all the way to Alaska.
Viburnum edule tends to grow at higher elevations and usually in wet spots — the edges of wet meadows, swamps and very wet areas of the Pacific Northwest rain forest or flood plain forests. It prefers spots with abundant moisture, which is a clue that it’s a great choice for a soggy area in a yard.
White flowers start opening in late spring and continue through midsummer. The blooms beckon a host of insects, including valuable pollinators. Viburnum edule is a terrific shrub choice for a pollinator friendly garden.
It’s also a great shrub to include for an edible landscape. Flowers fade to form berries that ripen from green, to yellow, to red. Unripe berries offer a crunch, and you need to scrape the flesh from the seeds using your teeth. After frost, berries become softer, which is when many native Americans would harvest the fruit. Frost makes the flavor more complex, but the sweet and sour notes remain, simply deepening.