American Highbush Cranberry

(Viburnum trilobum)

American Highbush Cranberry fruit
American Highbush Cranberry, pre-harvest

Cultivars tested

‘Wentworth’,  ‘Phillips’

Description and site preference

Type and size – bush, up to 15 feet if left unpruned
Hardiness zone – 3-7
Exposure – prefers full sun, pioneering plant
Soil – moist loam soils preferred, pH 6.0-7.5
Drainage – moderate to well-drained

Economic factors

Years to harvest – 2-3
Maintenance – low
Life of planting – 30+ years
Machine harvest potential – medium, similar to elderberries
Suitable markets –processed

Dormant American Highbush Cranberry
Dormant American Highbush Cranberyy

Notable features

Nutritional highlights ––may enhance blood glucose utilization and lipid metabolism, depending on cultivation practices (Burns Kraft et al., 2008)
Adaptability – widely adapted to all but very wet and droughty soils
Pest issues – none observed, but bacterial leaf spot and powdery mildew are potential problems
Invasive potential – native
Environmental benefits – good insectory plant, supports pollinators, wildlife food

Integration characteristics

Shared management – high, managed as hedgerow plant
Shared equipment – high, managed as hedgerow plant
Shared processing – medium, some specialized equipment may be needed
Co-marketing – high, with other similarly processed small fruit crops

Integration potential – good

American Highbush Cranberry would make an ecological contribution to the system, in addition to its economic potential.

History and background

This species is native to the northern U.S. and the southern third of Canada. It prefers a well-drained loam or silt-loam soil with good water-holding capacity, and is often found growing along streams and ponds. Although not well-adapted to wet soils, the highbush cranberry is not drought-tolerant and may die under an extended drought. It is tolerant to partial shade.

In comparison with the European highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus), the fruit of the American version has a more palatable taste. Both versions display a gorgeous bush, with bright red fruit and beautiful red foliage in the fall (though domestic cultivars do not seem to be quite as spectacular).

Fruit of the American highbush cranberry is still tart, acidic and astringent, much like the lowbush cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), which makes it unpalatable as a fresh fruit. It can be enjoyed processed and sweetened in jelly, pies and as a substitute for lowbush cranberries in sauce. Much of the astringency is in the seeds, so they should be removed before boiling the fruit, which nicely gels due to its high pectin content.

Observations at Carandale Farm

European highbush cranberry plants were removed in the fall of 2006 and replaced with American highbush cranberry in the spring of 2007.

  • American highbush cranberry is a native species very well adapted to Carandale Farm’s climate and soil conditions.
  • There is no concern about invasiveness.
  • Pest issues were not observed.
  • The plant usually blooms late enough to avoid spring freeze damage, typically in early June, but Carandale lost the crop in 2012 due to unprecedented warm weather in March, which accelerated bloom by 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Individual plants showed a big difference in growth. Some differences may be cultivar related and some may be related to plant quality. Replant disorder could also be a factor (see discussion section).
  • Carandale planned to experiment with fruit product development in 2012, but there was no fruit.

Two cultivars that were ordered from three plant sources are being observed at Carandale Farm. The ‘Wentworth’ cultivar was purchased from St. Lawrence Nurseries and Fedco Trees. Three out of four plants survived. All were slow to establish and two were still struggling in 2012. One was about 4 feet tall at that time and produced some fruit in 2011. The fruit was a lighter red and earlier maturing than the ‘Phillips’ cultivar.

‘Phillips’ was purchased from Hidden Springs Nursery. Two plants established right away and are now about 6 feet tall. They yielded some fruit in 2010 and about 15 lbs were harvested in 2011. (There was no fruit to harvest on either cultivar in 2012 because of frost damage). The fruit matured nearly two weeks later that ‘Wentworth’ and was darker, firmer and borne on larger cymes.


Very little selective breeding has been done on the American highbush cranberry, so most nurseries sell species plants taken from the wild. There are only a few named cultivars. American highbush cranberry could be a profitable and useful addition to a diverse system. It has potential as a lowbush cranberry substitute in many value-added products. It is also a valuable insectory plant that attracts and supports beneficial insects.

The two named cultivars being observed at Carandale show enough genetic diversity to indicate that a renewed emphasis on plant breeding could result in superior cultivars for commercial use. More research is needed to determine its nutritional profile, but there is anecdotal evidence that it could be a significant addition to a healthy diet.

Replant disorder (also call replant disease) may have been a factor in the variable adaptability observed. This is a recognized, but poorly understood problem that can occur when a plant is immediately replaced with one of the same type. New plantings often struggle to establish, make poor growth and even die. This effect varies among different plant species.

Highbush cranberry seems to have few pest problems and exhibits anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties similar to aronia.


The Berry Grower’s Companion, by Barbara L. Bowling

Highbush Cranberry: A Loser in the Name Game,” by Sam Thayer at Wildflowers-and-Weeds

Burns Kraft, TF, M Dey, RB Rogers, DM Ribnicky, DM Gipp, WT Cefalu, I Raskin and MA Lila. 2008. “Phytochemical Composition and Metabolic Performance-Enhancing Activity of Dietary Berries Traditionally Used by Native North Americans.” J. Agric. Food Chem., 56 (3), pp 654–660. <>, accessed 6/27/13.

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