European Highbush Cranberry (Guelder Rose)

(Viburnum opulus)

European Highbush Cranberry fruit
European Highbush Cranberry, pre-harvest

Cultivar tested


Description and site preference

Type and size – bush, 10-12 feet
Hardiness zone – 3-7
Exposure – full sun, tends to be a pioneering plant
Soil – moist, but not waterlogged, pH 6.0-7.5
Drainage – moderate to well-drained

Economic factors

Years to harvest – 2
Maintenance – low
Life of planting – 30+ years
Machine harvest potential – medium (similar to elderberry)
Suitable markets – fruit is too bitter for successful marketing

Notable features

Nutritional highlights – very high levels of polyphenols and vitamin C observed in some varieties
Adaptability – high, in all but wet and droughty soils
Pest issues – none observed
Invasive potential – moderate, already naturalized in most areas
Environmental benefits – good insectary plant, supports pollinators, provides food for wildlife

Integration characteristics

Shared management – high, can be managed as hedgerow plant
Shared equipment – high, managed as hedgerow plant
Shared processing – not marketable due to bitterness
Co-marketing –none

Integration potential

Attractive, vigorous wildlife food plant, but fruit quality was found to be unsuitable due to bitterness and flavor unpleasant to the palette. Not suitable for fresh market or processing.

History and background

A native of Eastern Europe, this species is now commonly found in the eastern U.S. and southeastern Canada. Brought from Europe primarily as an ornamental plant, it has become well-established in its new home. European highbush cranberry is a close relative of, and very hard to distinguish from, the American highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum). These two species probably hybridize in the wild, making them even more alike. Despite their similar appearance, there is a significant difference in fruit quality.

In Europe, highbush cranberry is a multi-purpose shrub prized for its medicinal properties, fruit and ornamental value. A Czech study found that the fruit was very high in polyphenols and vitamin C, and that there was a correlation between these nutrients and antioxidant activity (Rop et al., 2010).

Observations at Carandale Farm

Plants were ordered from Northwoods Nursery (see One Green World) and planted in 2003. Highbush cranberry does not need cross pollination. The only named cultivar offered, ‘Ukraine’ was said to be a superior variety producing abundant crops of large high quality fruit. The shrubs transplanted well and grew vigorously, appearing to be pest-free. They lived up to their reputation as an ornamental plant with attractive foliage that turned fire-red in the fall. The plant fruited two years after planting. The fruit was very bitter with an unpleasant taste, both before and after a hard frost. Carandale Farm made jelly with berries, hoping the sugar would improve flavor, but the end product was still not enjoyable.

By 2006, the plants were more than five feet tall and covered with fruit. Growers tried a succession of harvest times, but concluded that the fruit and products made from it were hardly edible. This conclusion was confirmed by by Sam Thayer in an article entitled “Highbush Cranberry, a Loser in the Name Game” (see reference below) Thayer said the European highbush cranberry “…is so bitter that I think it is stretching the truth to call it edible. Ingestible, perhaps, as medicine, but not edible.” He then goes on to say that the fruit of the American highbush cranberry differs in that it is tart but edible.

Carandale Farm removed the European highbush cranberry plants in the late fall of 2006 and prepared to replace them with Viburnum trilobum, the American highbush cranberry.


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

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

Rop, O, V Reznicek, M Valsikova, T Jurikova, J Mlcek and D Kramarova. 2010. “Antioxidant Properties of European Cranberrybush Fruit (Viburnum opulus var. edule).” Molecules, 15, 4467-4477. <>, accessed 6/27/13.

Plants for a Future: Viburnum opulus

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