En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
2 ratings

Wednesday - April 02, 2014

From: Palos Heights, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Pollinators, Shrubs
Title: Is Viburnum opulus var. americana (Viburnum trilobum) Self-fertile?
Answered by: Anne Van Nest


I am trying to attract birds to my Chicago area yard and I believe I have good conditions to grow highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum). My question is about the need for cross pollination. The literature is quite confusing. If I plant the cultivar ‘Bailey Compact’, do I need to plant two identical plants in order to produce berries? Or do I need a different variety, such as V. trilobum compactum? Would any viburnum work, or do I even need cross pollination?


The University of Maine Cooperative Extension has some good news for you! Viburnum opulus var. americanum (Viburnum trilobum is an older name), called American cranberry bush or Highbush Cranberry, have an outer ring of large, sterile flowers and an extensive inner section of smaller flowers that are have both male and female flower parts. So they are self-fertile and will produce fruit (after they are pollinated by the wind or insects). The cranberry-like fruit which ripens in late summer is edible for humans and birds. Many other viburnums are not self-fertile and do need another blooming at the same time to cross pollinate and produce fruit.

Here’s what the University of Maine Cooperative Extension writes about Highbush Cranberry flowers and fruit. Also ask your nursery if there are problems with Viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni) in your area before you purchase your new shrub.

Flowers: It produces flat-top clusters of showy white flowers in June. The clusters are 2 to 3 inches across, with an outer ring of larger, sterile flowers. The flowers are hermaphrodite (having both male and female organs) and are therefore self-fertile, meaning that an individual plant’s flowers can pollinate one another, so there is no need for a second type (or even a second individual plant) to provide pollen and produce fruit. The flowers are pollinated by both wind and insects.

Fruit: Nearly round drupe (drupe: a fleshy fruit with a central stonelike core containing one or more seeds) about 1/3 inch diameter with a single large seed, bright red, juicy and quite acid, like a cranberry. The seeds ripen from August to September. It does not begin to produce fruit until approximately five years of age.

Edible Qualities*: The fruits/drupes can be eaten raw (though not very tasty that way) or cooked, and like cranberries, they are rich in vitamin C and so have a tart, acid taste (the taste is best after a frost and when picked slightly under-ripe). They are an excellent substitute for cranberries and are likewise used in preserves, jams/jellies, sauces, etc., which make delicious condiments for meat and game. The jam reportedly has a very pleasant flavor. ‘Wentworth’, ‘Andrews’, and ‘Hahs’ are three varieties that are examples of the better-tasting, American type.

Note: *There is also a European variety of highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus) that is described as having inedible/bitter fruit. If you wish to eat the fruit, make sure you plant the true North American species, Viburnum opulus var. americana. You will often see it for sale under its old name, Viburnum trilobum, but keep in mind that although a nursery may list it as americana or trilobum, many people have had the unfortunate experience of discovering that what they ended up with was nevertheless the European variety. It may also be worth noting that the European form (V. opulus) is widely naturalized in central Maine, and a trusted source has written to say that he finds that one - at least in central Maine – more often than he finds the native (trilobum/var. americana) form!




From the Image Gallery

American cranberry bush
Viburnum opulus var. americanum

American cranberry bush
Viburnum opulus var. americanum

American cranberry bush
Viburnum opulus var. americanum

More Pollinators Questions

Plants for pollinators & honey bees in PA
March 12, 2012 - In the database section entitled "Value to Beneficial Insects" on the page for "Tilia americana L" (also known as the Bee Tree, or Linden Tree, American Basswood); the tree is identified as being ...
view the full question and answer

Landscaping for slope in Kansas City
October 08, 2008 - We have a down sloping back yard and patio on the lower area. We need some water absorbing plants near the foundation and some in the front of the house, where water isn't a problem. We are allergic ...
view the full question and answer

Pollinating Pawpaws
February 06, 2013 - We have many good sized pawpaw trees in our area but they never bear any fruit. I've checked them at different times in the fall over the years but no fruit. Someone told me that the flowers were po...
view the full question and answer

Failure of tall garden phlox buds to open in St. Louis MO
July 30, 2009 - Why won't the buds of my tall garden phlox open? Plants are apparently healthy, no powdery mildew or visible insects, foliage looks great and buds are profuse but they don't open. I have two clumps ...
view the full question and answer

Berries on cultivars of Ilex verticillata from Oak Park, IL
February 19, 2014 - I have three ilex verticillata cultivars (2 Nana, 1 Jim Dandy) planted on the west side of my house in a very shady site (there's a mature over-spreading hackberry on the parkway just to the west and...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center