Shrubs of the Adirondacks:
Northern Wild Raisin (Viburnum nudum L. var. cassinoides)
Northern Wild Raisin (Viburnum nudum var cassinoides) is a deciduous shrub that produces clusters of small white flowers in late June and colorful, pinkish berry-like fruit which matures to near-black in fall. This shrub is abundant on poorly drained soils in swamps and bogs in the Adirondacks.
This plant is also known as Withe Rod, Withe-rod, Northern Witherod, Witherod Viburnum, Northern Wild-raisin, and Wild Raisin. It can be found in some field guides under the scientific name Viburnum cassinoides.
Identification of the Northern Wild Raisin
Northern Wild Raisin is an erect, medium-sized, long-lived shrub which reaches maximum height at maturity at about 15 feet.
The flowers of Northern Wild Raisin appear in a dense cluster usually about four inches wide. The individual flowers are white, 1/4 inch wide, with five petals and five stamens topped with yellow anthers, giving the flower cluster a creamy glow. In the Adirondacks, the Northern Wild Raisin flowers for a short period in mid- to late-June.
The leaves are simple and opposite, meaning that they appear in pairs, directly across from each other on the stem. The deep green leaves are two to four inches long. They are narrowly egg-shaped or lance-shaped, with nearly-smooth or wavy edges with rounded, low teeth.
The berry-like fruit appears in clusters after flowering. Each individual fruit is oval with a nipple-like tip. Each fruit is about 1/3 inch long. The fruits, borne on colorful red stems, change color as they mature, starting off yellow-green to pink, and maturing to a dark blue-black. In the Adirondacks, the fruits develop starting in late August and early September, maturing in late September.
The Northern Wild Raisin is quite similar to several other viburnums that grow in the Adirondacks. Leaf shape, habit, and habitat help distinguish them from each other.
- Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) has similar clusters of tiny white flowers. Its berry-like fruit also ripens to a bluish-black. However, it is larger than the Northern Wild Raisin, with a mature height at 20 years ot 28 feet. The leaf is very similar in shape to that of the Northern Wild Raisin, but Nannyberry leaves have tiny teeth, contrasting with the wavy teeth of the Northern White Raisin. Nannyberry can also be found in a wider variety of habitats. Although it can grow along stream banks, it is also at home in drier habitats. Nannyberry is less widely distributed in the Adirondack Park and has yet to be documented in several Adirondack counties; it is more common in the lower elevations in the Park.
- Arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum) also produces flat-topped clusters of small white flowers of five petals each and berry-like fruit that ripens to near black. It can be found growing in wet habitats, but is equally likely to occur in non-wetlands, such as open, well-drained areas in old fields. The leaves of the Arrow-wood are more egg-shaped, with coarse teeth.
- Mapleleaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium L.) is a smaller shrub (maturing at six feet) and has similar clusters of white flowers, followed by berry-like fruit which ripens to near black. However, its lobed-shaped, toothed leaves (somewhat similar in shape to maple leaves) are very different. Moreover, in contrast to Northern Wild Raisin, Mapleleaf Viburnum has a preference for well-drained soils and is found primarily in the southeastern regions of the Park and in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains.
Uses of Northern Wild Raisin
Northern Wild Raisin has a variety of uses as an edible plant. The fruit reportedly may be eaten raw or cooked, and was used by several native American tribes, including the Abnaki and the Algonquin. The fruit has a single large seed, so there is not much flesh, but what's there is said to be sweet and well-flavored. The leaves may be used as a pleasant-tasting tea substitute.
Northern Wild Raisin also has some medicinal uses. The bark and root bark of the shrub reportedly can be used as a tonic. An infusion has been used as a treatment for fever and convulsions. An infusion of bark reportedly can be used as a wash for a sore tongue.
Wildlife Value of Northern Wild Raisin
Although Northern Wild Raisin, unlike some other shrubs, consistently bears heavy crops of fruit, it is not ranked as an important wildlife food. Its ripe fruit is eaten by many kinds of wildlife. However, the berries are not a preferred food, and this plant does not represent a significant share of the diet of any of our Adirondack animals.
The wildlife which makes greatest use of this shrub as a food source includes Ruffed Grouse, Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Purple Finch, and other birds. Red Squirrel, Eastern Chipmunk, Snowshoe Hare, Striped Skunk, and White-tailed Deer also eat the fruit, which can hang onto the bush into the winter. Even in these cases, the shrub's contribution to the nutritional needs of these creatures is modest. In sites where Northern Wild Raisin forms dense thicket, it can provide cover for various mammals and birds.
Distribution of Northern Wild Raisin
Northern Wild Raisin is found in eastern North America, south to Georgia and west to Wisconsin and Illinois. In Canada, this shrub occurs in Quebec and Ontario.
Within New York State, Northern Wild Raisin is found in most of the counties in the eastern half of the state. This plant is fairly common in swampy and boggy areas in the Adirondacks. Vouchered plant specimens of Northern Wild Raisin have been documented in all counties within the Adirondack Park except Saratoga and Washington.
Habitat of Northern Wild Raisin
Northern White Raisin is a wetland species which usually occurs in poorly-drained soils, but can occasionally be found in non-wetlands on fairly well-drained soil. In the Adirondacks, this shrub is most likely to be found in swamps, boggy areas, or on the edges of marshes and ponds.
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