Shrubs of the Adirondacks:
Northern Wild Raisin (Viburnum nudum L. var. cassinoides)

Adirondack Shrubs: Northern Wild Raisin on the Heron Marsh Trail (14 September 2013).
Shrubs of the Adirondacks: The Northern Wild Raisin's berry-like fruits provide a varying palette of color, beginning with yellow and light rosy pink in late summer and darkening to deep rose before turning bluish-black. Northern Wild Raisin on the Heron Marsh Trail (14 September 2013).

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

Shrubs of the Adirondack Park: Northern Wild Raisin on the Heron Marsh Trail (17 June 2015).
Shrubs of the Adirondacks: The Northern Wild Raisin's flower clusters appear in mid-June atop leaves with nearly-smooth or wavy edges. Northern Wild Raisin on the Heron Marsh Trail (17 June 2015).

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.

Shrubs of the Adirondack Park: Northern Wild Raisin on the Heron Marsh Trail (3 September 2014)
Shrubs of the Adirondacks: Northern Wild Raisin fruit ripens unevenly so various color states can share the same cluster. Northern Wild Raisin on the Heron Marsh Trail (3 September 2014)

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.

References

Michael Kudish. Adirondack Upland Flora: An Ecological Perspective (Saranac, New York: The Chauncy Press, 1992), pp. 194-197.

Lawrence Newcomb. Newcomb's Wildflower Guide (Little Brown and Company, 1977), pp. 302-303.

William K. Chapman and Alan E. Bessette. Trees and Shrubs of the Adirondacks: A Field Guide (Utica, New York: North Country Books, 1990), pp. 106-109, Plates 30, 31, and 32.

Alexander C. Martin, Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits (New York: Dover Publications, 1951), pp. 363-364.

William Carey Grimm. The Illustrated Book of Wildflowers and Shrubs (Stackpole Books, 1993), pp. 586-591.

National Audubon Society. Field Guide to North American Wildflowers. Eastern Region (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), pp. 463-465, Plates 162, 163, and 168.

Meiyin Wu and Dennis Kalma. Wetland Plants of the Adirondacks: Ferns, Woody Plants, and Graminoids (Trafford Publishing, 2011), p. 44.

United States Department of Agriculture. Plants Database. Retrieved 9 February 2017.

New York Flora Association. New York Flora Atlas. Northern Wild-raisin. Retrieved 9 February 2017.

Northern Forest Atlas. Images. Wild Raisin, Viburnum cassinoides. Retrieved 10 February 2017.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides. Retrieved 8 February 2017.

New England Wildflower Society. Withe-rod. Viburnum nudum L. Retrieved 8 February 2017.

Plants for a Future. Viburnum cassinoides - L. Retrieved 8 February 2017.

New York State. Adirondack Park Agency. Preliminary List of Species Native Within the Adirondack Park Listed Alphabetically by Scientific Name and Sorted by Habit. v.1 Updated 10.23.2006. Retrieved 26 January 2017.

University of Michigan Herbarium. Viburnum cassinoides L. Retrieved 10 February 2017.

Encyclopedia of Life. Wild Raisin. Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides. Retrieved 9 February 2017.

University of Michigan. Native American Ethnobotany. A Database of Foods, Drugs, Dyes and Fibers of Native American Peoples, Derived from Plants. Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides. Retrieved 10 February 2017.

Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry. Wild Raisin. Viburnum cassinoides.  Retrieved 10 February 2017.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. New York Natural Heritage Program. Ecological Communities of New York State. Second Edition (March 2014). Retrieved 17 January 2017. pp. 121-122.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2015. Online Conservation Guide for Pine-Northern Hardwood Forest. Retrieved 1 February 2017.

 

Shrubs of the Adirondack Park



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