The highbush cranberry shrub isn’t a true cranberry, although the berries are similar in both taste and appearance. The Latin name is Viburnum opulus var. americanum, which is important to know if you buy plants for growing cranberries for your own consumption or to support wildlife.

Highbush cranberries are multi-stemmed shrubs growing 10 to 15 feet tall and 10 to 12 feet wide. Smooth gray branches form arching stems that give the shrub a dense rounded shape, making it a popular choice for both stand-alone specimen plants and privacy hedges. 

Highbush cranberry leaves might remind you of those of maple trees, but they are more wrinkly and the veins are impressed, or sunken. Leaves are glossy green all summer and in fall turn an intense orange, red or purple depending upon the weather in a particular year.

In June, flat-topped clusters of showy white 3- to 4-inch wide flowers cover the shrub.  An outer ring of larger, sterile flowers surrounds each flat cluster. The flowers are pollinated by both insects and wind and soon turn into 1/3-inch berries, starting green, then going yellowish pink, then orange and finally changing to cherry red by early September.

The berries are high in vitamins A and C and fiber and have more antioxidants than blueberries. They may be eaten raw, but most people don’t enjoy the tart, acidy taste.  More often they are made into jellies, jams or sauces. You’ll have plenty of time for harvest, because berries hang on the branches until late winter. Birds will eat them, and in fact may clean off an entire shrub in an hour, but not until every other better-tasting food in the vicinity has been eaten, so they aren’t really competition for the berries.

Harvest time is a matter of taste and opinion. Some people think…