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A Comprehensive Guide to Squashberry (Viburnum edule)

Squashberry (Viburnum edule) is a shrub that is native to Canada, Alaska, and the northern tier of the United States. This species is a host to the holly blue (Celastrina argiolus), Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon), Henry’s elfin (Incisalia henrici) and the baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton). Growing from 2 feet to 12 feet tall, this species grows in gravelly shores, pine and aspen forests, spruce forests, and thickets. The white flowers bloom from April to May and the plant is hardy in zones 3-8.

Taxonomy and Naming of Squashberry (Viburnum edule)

Herbarium specimen of squashberry (Viburnum edule).
Herbarium specimen — Viburnum edule (Michx.) Raf. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC0 1.0).

Taxonomy

Squashberry (Viburnum edule) was originally named and described by Andre’ Michaux as Viburnum opulus var. edule in 1803. Five years later in 1808, it was elevated to the species level as Viburnum edule, by Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, a French botanist. It has kept this same name since and is a member of the Muskroot Family (Adoxaceae).

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Viburnum, derives from the Latin word for obscure or wayfaringtree. The species name, edule, is Latin for “edible.”

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes from a description of the fruit. Other common names include mooseberry, lowbush cranberry, and few-flowered cranberry bush.

Physical Description

White flowers of squashberry (Viburnum edule) in a wooded area.
Flowers of Squashberry (Viburnum edule) — Robert Flogaus-Faust, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Plant Type: This plant is a shrub.
  • Height: 2 ft (0.6 m) to 12 ft (3.5 m)
  • Stem: The stems are erect with dark brown to gray bark.
  • Leaves: The leaves are simple, opposite, circular to elliptic, three-lobed and have serrate margins. They are 2.4 in (6.0 cm) to 3.9 in (10.0 cm) long and 2 in (5.0 cm) to 4 in (10.0 cm) wide.
  • Flower color: white
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from May to August.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has red to orange drupes that mature in the late summer to fall.

Range of Squashberry in the United States and Canada

Range map of squashberry (Viburnum edule) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map of Squashberry (Viburnum edule) — Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023. (website https://bonap.org/). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2023. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]

This Viburnum is native to Canada, Alaska, and the northern tier of the lower 48 of the United States. It is considered to rare in the states of California, Michigan, New York, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the province of Nova Scotia.

Habitat

Spruce and aspen forest in the Rocky Mountains.
Spruce and Aspen Forest — LBM1948, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows on gravelly shores, pine and aspen woods (Gillett 1954), and peaty depressions (Thieret 1964), spruce forests (Raup 1946), floodplain spruce forests (Raup 1947), thickets (Plants for a Future), and alpine zones (Steele 1963).

Hosted Insects

Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly on vegetation.
Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) — D. Gordon E. Robertson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This viburnum is a host to the holly blue (Celastrina argiolus), spring azure (Celastrina ladon), Henry’s elfin (Incisalia henrici), the Baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton), and the scarce fritillary (Euphydryas maturna).

Other Supported Wildlife

Blazing star (Liatris spicata) with bumblebee in McMullen House garden.
Bumblebee on Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) — Robert Coxe, Image

This species is a nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, bees, and wasps during the growing season. Birds enjoy the fruits in the fall.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethnobotany Database notes that this species has been used for numerous foods, sore throats, anti-diarrheal, and for skin disorders. The berries of this species have been eatern as food (Turner and Davis 1993).

How is this plant distinguished from other Viburnums?

This species is similar to the highush cranberry (Viburnum opulus), however, while highbush cranberry has petiolar glands, this species does not (Fernald 1941).

Is this plant invasive?

This species has not been noted as being weedy.

Gardening with Squashberry

Red fruit of squashberry (Viburnum edule).
Fruit of Squashberry (Viburnum edule) — Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service, CC BY 3.0 US, via Wikimedia Commons

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 3-8. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right growing conditions (soil, moisture and exposure), you may well be able to grow this plant. However, if planted outside of its range, the hosted species may not recognize the plant or be harmed by ingesting a different species with an unfamiliar chemical composition.

Optimal Conditions

This species requires full sun to part-shade and moist well-drained soils. It can also handle some dry soils.

References

  • Fernald, Merritt Lyndon. 1941. Viburunum edule and its nomenclature. Rhodora 43: 481-483.
  • Gillett, John M. 1954. A plant collection from the Mealy Mountains, Labrador, Canada. The Canadian Field-Naturalist 68 (3): 118-122.
  • Raup, Hugh M. 1947. Botany of Southwestern Mackenzie. Sargentia 6: 1-275.
  • Raup, Hugh M. 1946. Phytogeographic Studies in the Athabaska-Great Slave Lake Ragion, II. Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 1: 1-85.
  • Steele, Frederic L. 1963. Alpine Zone of the Presidential Range. Rhodora 65: 337-338.
  • Thieret, John W. 1964. Botanical Survey Along the Yellowknife Highway, Northwest Territories, Canada: II. Vegetation. Sida 1: 187-239.
  • Turner, Nancy J. and Alison Davis. 1993. “When everything was scarce”: The role of plants as famine foods in northwestern North America. Journal of Ethnobiology 13: 171-201.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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