Description & Overview

Viburnum lentago, Nannyberry Viburnum, is a wonderful native shrub with many fantastic qualities but is often underutilized in landscapes. Native to Wisconsin, it can be a shrub or small tree, and is found in moist areas including stream banks, along pond edges, low woods, or bordering swamps. Creamy white flowers bloom in May/June and while not particularly fragrant are as pretty as the edible fruit that appears in the fall. Glossy green leaves change to shades of orange-red to purple as fruit changes from shades of pink to blue-black providing a punch of color late in the season.

You may also know Nannyberry Viburnum as Sheepberry, Sweet Viburnum, Sweetberry, Wild Raisin, Tea Plant, Nanny Plum, or Cowberry.

Core Characteristics

Category: Shrub

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 12-15 feet

Mature Spread: 8-10 feet

Growth Rate: Moderate

Growth Form: Upright, arching, open, suckering, and spreading

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Moist, well-drained soil; tolerant of clay

Flower: Creamy white flowers in flat-topped cymes

Bloom Period: Late May, early June

Foliage: 2" to 4" long glossy green

Fall Color: Orange to purplish red

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: Clusters of 1" drupes, light green, pale yellow, and red/pink changing to blue-black. Persistent throughout winter.

Suggested Uses

Nannyberry Viburnum prefers full sun to part shade in well-drained soils; however, it’s quite adaptable and can tolerate drier areas, as well as wet sites and occasional flooding. Although shade-tolerant, Nannyberry may be slower growing, but in more open and sunny areas it can grow larger. Keep this in mind when deciding where to plant it.

Viburnum in general, are versatile and Nannyberry is no exception. With its spreading habit and height, planted in rows Nannyberry would make an excellent hedge, privacy screen, windbreak, or border.

Nannyberry could be a specimen shrub or tree provided its size and tendency to sprawl aren’t issues. Be prepared to prune and promptly remove suckers if placed in a more restricted or tidy area.

Perhaps the best feature of Nannyberry is the sheer number of birds, mammals, insects, and pollinators it supports. For this reason alone, it is a must-have in wildlife, ecological, and native plant gardens. For optimal fruiting, plant two or three shrubs for cross-pollination.

Enjoying moist conditions, Nannyberry would be a great addition to pond edges, stream banks, and low-lying or swampy areas.

If growing food is your jam, Nannyberry is the plant to include! The fruit has many uses and should be a staple in any edible garden. Again, to achieve ample fruit production, plant multiples for cross-pollination.

Viburnum lentago, Nannyberry Viburnum, is a wonderful native shrub with many fantastic qualities but is often underutilized in landscapes. Native to W…
Viburnum lentago, Nannyberry Viburnum, is a wonderful native shrub with many fantastic qualities but is often underutilized in landscapes. Native to W…
Viburnum lentago, Nannyberry Viburnum, is a wonderful native shrub with many fantastic qualities but is often underutilized in landscapes. Native to W…

Wildlife Value

Nannyberry is a powerhouse in the landscape, attracting tons of pollinators, birds, and wildlife with its nectar pollen, fruit, and cover and nesting material opportunities. It has so many ecological benefits it’s hard to resist planting! Just be sure to plant more than one to ensure ample fruit.

Most viburnums produce a small amount of nectar and are primarily visited for their pollen.
Honeybees, Sweat bees, Yellow-faced bees, Mesilla Masked bees, and Miner bees seek nectar and collect pollen, as do Syrphid, Dance, and Muscid flies. Longhorn, Fire-colored, Scarab, False flower, and Carrion beetles also seek both nectar and pollen.

The Spring Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon) is attracted to the flowers and relies on Nannyberry as a larval host plant while Red Admiral butterflies (Vanessa atalanta) will occasionally visit seeking nectar.

Perhaps the crowning jewel(s) of Nannyberry are the fruits, which are small drupes that ripen in late summer, remaining on the plant through winter, unless of course they’re gobbled up. Ruffed Grouse, Northern Bobwhite, Ring-necked Pheasant, Northern Flicker, Gray Catbird, American Robin, Hermit Thrush, Eastern Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Purple Finch relish the sweet fruit. Songbirds including Vireo, Indigo Bunting, Warblers, and Catbirds use Nannyberry and other viburnums as nesting sites. Eastern Chipmunks, Fox and Gray Squirrels, Red Foxes, and White-footed Mice will often dine on the fruit.

White-tailed deer will snack on twigs and foliage while Cottontail rabbits will gnaw on the bark. American Beavers, nature’s ecosystem engineers, will use the wood to build damns and lodges.

Maintenance Tips

To maintain shape, prune after flowering as buds for the next year form in the summer of the current year. Nannyberry can sucker quite aggressively, which is great for filling in and naturalizing areas. If this is not desired, remove root suckers when they appear.

Viburnum lentago, Nannyberry Viburnum, is a wonderful native shrub with many fantastic qualities but is often underutilized in landscapes. Native to W…
Viburnum lentago, Nannyberry Viburnum, is a wonderful native shrub with many fantastic qualities but is often underutilized in landscapes. Native to W…

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: Yes, but will be eaten if they are desperate
Rabbit Resistant: No

Nannyberry is moderately susceptible to viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni) with foliage showing mild damage which is usually not detrimental. Products containing imidacloprid can be used to pre-treat; however, timing is critical and should be done after flowering (also to prevent harming pollinators) but before damage appears.

Viburnum crown borers (Synanthedon viburni and Synanthedon fatifera) can infest viburnum and kill the tops of the shrubs. The best preventive measure is to take care when working or mowing around the trunks to prevent mechanical damage, as wounds will weaken the shrub and invite infestation.

Mildew may occur if it is too much shade – site appropriately. Leaf spot, caused by fungi or bacteria, is an occasional problem but typically not detrimental. Rake and destroy fallen leaves before the first snow to eliminate areas where diseases can survive and re-infect the plant. Allow adequate space between plants and prune to increase air circulation and light penetration.

Leaf Lore

Viburnum overall has been around for a long time-a really, really long time. Today, most viburnums are found in more temperate or boreal environments, according to an article published by Harvard University. Specifically, the lineage of Viburunum lentago can be traced back to the warm temperate forests in Asia, and 30 to 35 million years ago, it made its way to North America. 35 million years ago. Wrap your head around that!

The genus name Viburnum comes from classical Latin and means “obscure.” The specific epithet lentago as named by Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), means flexible as the twigs are tough yet bendable.

Female goats (Nanny goats) were purported to feed on the ripe berries, more so than male (Billie) goats, hence the common name Nannyberry.

The fruit has historically been used and is still used today, for fresh eating, jams, jellies, relishes, and preserves, and within beverages and baked goods. It can even be pureed and dried into fruit leather. The taste is very sweet, juicy, and pleasant and is reported to be best when picked after a frost.

There is a long record of the use of Nannyberry for medicinal and edible purposes by many indigenous people across North America. The Chippewa used an infusion or poultice of the leaves as a urinary aid, the Delaware made a compound to treat measles, and the Iroquois used a decoction of the roots to ease vomiting during consumption. The inner bark was used to make an infusion and used as a diuretic by the Ojibwa.

Companion Plants

The combinations for Nannyberry Viburnum are endless as they are so adaptable and versatile. For a bird garden, consider pairing with Common Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), native elderberries (Sambucus spp.), Common Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), and perennials such as Wild Senna (Cassia hebecarpa), Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), and Marsh Blazing Star (Liatris spicata). Don’t forget to include ornamental grasses to provide seeds and nesting material. Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and Bottlebrush Grass (Elmus hystrix) are fantastic and look beautiful too.

For an edible garden, combine with a beautiful Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), Cornelian Cherry Dogwood (Cornus mas), American Black Currant (Ribes americanum), American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), Glossy Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa var. elata), Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), and Nodding Pink Onion (Allium cernuum). There are also many fruit trees that Johnson’s carries including apples (Malus spp.), pears (Pyrus spp.), peaches, and cherries (Prunus spp.).

Viburnum lentago, Nannyberry Viburnum, is a wonderful native shrub with many fantastic qualities but is often underutilized in landscapes. Native to W…
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Written by Johnson's Nursery