Highbush Cranberry

True cranberries, from the genus vaccinium, need very specialised conditions to grow, and they are not very hardy. However, northern gardeners can easily grow cranberries by planting the very decorative American highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum; it is sometimes also called Viburnum opulus americanum or Viburnum opulus subsp. trilobum). 

Although the fruit is not actually a cranberry, it is similar enough to be used interchangeably in the kitchen. The only difference is that highbush cranberry fruits have seeds which need to be removed. Instructions for making jelly or juice from highbush cranberries (and other fruits) can be found here. The berries are quite tart, but high in pectin, so they will jell easily in preserves. If they are left on the bush until after the first frosts, the flavour will become milder, but the pectin content will diminish. 

Aside from the fruit, highbush cranberries are a valuable addition to the landscape. White flower clusters in the spring, deep red fall foliage, and clusters of red berries that persist through most of the winter and attract birds give it appeal throughout the year. The bush should even flower and fruit acceptably in partial shade. 

The bushes are self-pollinating, but two varieties planted nearby will give better yields. "Wentworth" is an older variety usually recommended for good fruit production, but "Hahs", "Andrews" and "Phillips" are slightly smaller (around eight feet tall instead of ten) and are said to have better tasting fruit. Very little work has been done testing or breeding superior cultivars; see what your local nursery has available and ask them for their recommendations.

A word of warning about this plant: the berries may give off an unpleasant odour during the winter and while cooking. Harvesting the berries early ensures that they have a high pectin content for processing and will minimize the smell. "Phillips" is also said to have less odour than other cultivars. 

As a food plant, the highbush cranberry might be a large plant with small returns, unless your family eats a lot of cranberries, but as a landscaping plant with the added benefit of food production, it can be a winner.

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