Viburnum lentago, commonly called nannyberry (wild raisin, sweet viburnum, sheepberry), is a large, upright, multi-stemmed, suckering, deciduous shrub which typically grows to 10-18 feet tall with a spread of 6-12 feet, but may also be grown as a small, single trunk tree that may reach a height of 30 feet.
Native nannyberries have non-fragrant white flowers in flat-topped comes (to 4.5-inch diameter) that appear in spring. Flowers give way in autumn to blue-black, berry-like drupes that often persist into winter and are quite attractive to birds and wildlife. Ovate, finely toothed, glossy dark green leaves (to 4 inches long) are abruptly long-pointed. Variable fall color ranges from drab greenish-yellow to reddish-purple.
Nannyberries are widespread in eastern North America. Fruits are edible and may be eaten off the bush when ripe or used in purees or fruit leather. The genus name comes from the Latin name of a species plant. The specific epithet means flexible, as the twigs are very tough and flexible. Nanny goats apparently feed on the ripe berries (reportedly more so than billy goats), hence the common name.
Nannyberry is leggy and somewhat open at maturity with an irregular to rounded crown. Suckers often form at the base. The bark is dark gray to black in a pattern of small blocks. The ½-1-inch petiole has a wavy, mostly winged margin. Mature foliage is dark glossy green, becoming deep maroon to red in the fall. Small, creamy-white, bisexual flowers in flat-topped clusters appear May through June. Nannyberry is one of the showiest native shrubs. The ½-inch berry-like fruits (drupes) are blue-black and form hanging clusters from July to September.
Adaptation and Distribution
Nannyberry is adaptable to a wide range of sites but is commonly found natively in moist areas with rich loam to clay-loam soil, such as low woods, swamp borders, or near stream banks. It also occurs on moist, wooded slopes but tolerates drier sites. Although quite shade-tolerant, it achieves relatively larger size in more open areas. Nannyberry is distributed throughout the north and northeastern United States.
Although nannyberry grows naturally as a multi-stemmed shrub, it can be maintained as a small tree by pruning stems and removing suckers at the base.
Nannyberry has no serious insect or disease problems. Mildew and leaf spot are occasionally occur.
Shrub borders. Tall hedge or screen. Background for native plantings. Suckering habit is conducive to naturalizing.
According to Wisconsin’s foraging expert, Sam Thayer, “Nannyberries are the most consistently productive of our wild fruits.” Thayer likes to let the berries ripen to a deep black and harvests them mid-October. His favorite way to use the berries is to cook them down and then send them through a food mill to remove the seeds. The resulting puree, say Thayer, is delicious to use as a spread. He will often dry the puree into a fruit leather. He describes the taste as “A cross between a banana and a prune.”
Thayer also says that people from native Americans to early settlers have eaten the fruits from this Native shrub. Many others have enjoyed this plant for a long time and modern day foragers find nannyberries to be invaluable.
Emily says that the nannyberries taste like raisins. She likes this plant because it is low maintenance. Once they are 3 years old and established, you can rejuvenate the shrub by cutting cut them down to the ground.
Common Name: Nannyberry viburnum
Type: Deciduous shrub
Native Range: Eastern North America
Zone: 2 to 8
Height: 14 to 16 feet
Spread: 6 to 12 feet
Bloom Time: May
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Suggested Use: Hedge
Attracts: Birds, Butterflies
Fruit: Showy, Edible
Tolerate: Air Pollution