General: Honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae). Native, multi-stemmed shrubs or small trees growing to 9 m high, somewhat open at maturity and leggy at the base, the crown irregular to rounded, often suckering at the base; bark dark gray to black, forming a pattern of small blocks. Leaves are deciduous, simple, opposite, elliptic-obovate to ovate, 5-10 cm long, long-pointed, glabrous or nearly so on both sides, the petiole with a wavy-winged margin, margins finely toothed; mature foliage dark glossy, green, becoming deep maroon to red in the fall. Flowers are small, all bisexual, creamy white, in flat-topped clusters 5-12 cm wide. Fruit in hanging clusters, berry-like (a drupe), oval to nearly round, 10-15 mm long, changing from green to yellow, pink, rose and finally to blue-black, sweet and edible, with an odor of wet sheep wool when ripe and rotting, with a single, smooth, nearly flat stone.
Sheepberry, wild raisin, sweet viburnum, nanny-berry
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Localities documented in Tropicos sources
Canada (North America)
United States (North America)
Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
- Anonymous. 1986. List-Based Rec., Soil Conserv. Serv., U.S.D.A. Database of the U.S.D.A., Beltsville. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1103
- Gleason, H. A. 1968. The Sympetalous Dicotyledoneae. vol. 3. 596 pp. In H. A. Gleason Ill. Fl. N. U.S. (ed. 3). New York Botanical Garden, New York. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1707
- Small, J. K. 1933. Man. S.E. Fl. i–xxii, 1–1554. Published by the Author, New York. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1515
- Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Fl. Great Plains i–vii, 1–1392. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/637
- Fernald, M. 1950. Manual (ed. 8) i–lxiv, 1–1632. American Book Co., New York. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1327
Global Range: Que. to Sask., south to GA, MO, NE, CO, and WY. Peripheral.
Common habitats for nannyberry are low woods, swamp borders, and rich valleys at or near streambanks, usually in rich loam to clay-loam soil. It also occurs in moist soil of wooded slopes and other upland sites, sometimes even in sandy or rocky soil. It is a shade-tolerant understory shrub, but reaches relatively larger size in partial openings or along edges. Flowering occurs in May-June and fruits in July–September.
Across northeastern North America, from New Brunswick and Quebec to Saskatchewan, south to Colorado and Nebraska (rare), Missouri (extinct), West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, rare in the Appalachians in Maryland and Virginia and apparently disjunct in Georgia. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site. A detailed distribution map is also provided by Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center (2000).
Reproduction is primarily by seed. Suckering from the base can replace and add to main stems. The “leggy” habit sometimes allows lower branches to fall over – they root where touching the ground.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Viburnum lentago
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Viburnum lentago
Public Records: 8
Specimens with Barcodes: 8
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status, such as, state noxious status and wetland indicator values.
Comments: Land-use conversion & fragmentation - Low - Not yet
Pests and potential problems
Nannyberry is susceptible to powdery mildew where air circulation is not good. Infected plants are not killed but the leaves can be discolored and disfigured in late summer and fall.
Viburnum leaf beetle. The viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni), native to Europe and Asia, was first encountered in North America in 1947, perhaps arriving earlier from Europe on nursery plants. It received little notice until 1978, when it caused severe defoliation of ornamental viburnums in Ontario and Quebec. It has now reached western New York and Maine and become a concern in urban landscapes and nurseries.
The adult and the larva “skeletonize” leaves by feeding on the leaves between the midrib and larger veins. Plants, which have been defoliated for 2-3 consecutive years, may be killed. The preferred host is Viburnum opulus and its selections; lesser damage is caused to V. lantana and V. acerifolium, V. dentatum, V. lentago, and V. rafinesquianum. Other species, particularly V. rhytidophyllum and V. carlesii, are relatively unaffected.
The entire life cycle of the viburnum leaf beetle takes about 8-10 weeks. Larvae hatch in early May and feed on the viburnum leaves throughout the larval period, which lasts 4-5 weeks. The larvae pupate in the soil. The adults (4.5-6.5 mm long, brown) appear by mid-July and continue eating the leaves, then mate and lay over-wintering eggs on the twigs. Egg-laying holes are in a straight line on the underside of the current season's growth.
Chemical control of the viburnum leaf beetle is best applied to young larvae, because adults will fly away or drop to the ground if disturbed. If over-wintering egg sites are found, affected wood should be pruned and destroyed before the eggs hatch. Examine upper and lower leaf surfaces for feeding larvae. Potential biological control mechanisms are being studied.
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
These plant materials are readily available from commercial sources. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”
Nannyberry is one of the more shade-tolerant woody plants, but it also grows well in open sites. It is tolerant of both moist and dry soils. It is easily transplanted and established and can be propagated by cuttings. Although the growth habit is primarily a multi-stemmed shrub, it can be maintained as a small tree by pruning stems and removing basal suckers.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Nannyberry is shade-tolerant species useful in landscape plantings as shrub borders, taller barriers, hedges, and windbreaks. It produces good seasonal displays of flowers, fruits, and fall leaf color and the fruit are eaten by many species of birds and wildlife. Cultivars are not commonly available.
Viburnum lentago (Nannyberry, Sheepberry, or Sweet Viburnum) is a species of Viburnum native to the northeastern and midwestern United States, and in southern Canada from New Brunswick west to southeastern Saskatchewan. Isolated populations are found in the Dakotas, Wyoming, Colorado, and the Appalachian Mountains as far south as Kentucky and Virginia.
It is a large shrub or small tree growing upwards to 30 ft (9 m) tall with a trunk up to ~10 inches (25 cm) diameter and a short trunk, round-topped head, pendulous, flexible branches. The bark is reddish- to grayish-brown, and broken into small scales. The twigs are pale green and covered with rusty down at first, later becoming dark reddish brown, sometimes glaucous, smooth, tough, flexible, and produce an offensive odor when crushed or bruised. The winter buds are light red, covered with pale scurfy down, protected by a pair of opposing scales. Flower-bearing buds are ~3/4 in (2 cm) long, obovate, long pointed; other terminal buds are acute, ~1/3 to 1/2 in (10–15 mm) long, while lateral buds are much smaller. The bud scales enlarge with the growing shoot and often become leaf-like.
Like all viburnums, the leaves are arranged in opposite pairs on the twigs; they are oval, ~2 - 4 in (5–10 cm) long and ~3/4 in - 2 in (2–5 cm) broad, wedge-shaped, rounded or subcordate at base, with an acuminate apex and a finely serrated margin, and a winged petiole. They open from the bud involute, bronze green and shining, hairy and downy; when full grown are bright green and shining above, pale green and marked with tiny black dots beneath. In autumn they turn a deep red, or red and orange.
The flowers are small, 5–6 mm diameter, with five whitish petals, arranged in large round terminal cymes 5–12 cm diameter; flowering is in late spring. The calyx is tubular, equally five-toothed, persistent; the corolla is equally five-lobed, imbricate in the bud, cream-white, one-quarter of an inch across; lobes acute, and slightly erose. There are five stamens, inserted on the base of the corolla, alternate with its lobes, exserted; filaments slender; anthers bright yellow, oblong, introrse, versatile, two-celled; cells opening longitudinally. The pistil has a one-celled inferior ovary, the style thick, short, light green, and the stigma broad; there is one ovule in each cell. The fruit is a small round blue-black drupe, 8–16 mm long on a reddish stem; it is thick skinned, sweet and rather juicy, and edible. The stone is oblong oval, flattened.
The roots are fibrous, wood is ill-smelling. It grows in wet soil along the borders of the forest, often found in fence corners and along roadsides. The wood is dark orange brown, heavy, hard, close-grained, with a density of 0.7303.
The Sheepberry is one of the largest of the Viburnums. It is admired for its compact habit, its lustrous foliage which insects rarely disfigure, its beautiful and abundant flowers, its handsome edible fruit and its brilliant autumnal color. It readily adapts itself to cultivation, and is one of the best of the small trees of eastern America for the decoration of parks and gardens in all regions of extreme winter cold. It is easily raised from seeds which, like those of the other American species, do not germinate until the second year after they are planted.
As suggested by the alternative name Sweet Viburnum, the fruit is (unlike that of many Viburnums) edible. The bark and leaves were also used by Native Americans in the preparation of herbal medicines.
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