Nannyberry, Viburnum lentago
So bring us some figgy pudding, so bring us some… wait! Make that nannyberry pudding!
- Cold hardiness zones: 2 – 8 (can withstand cold to -50° F, or -45 C)
- Soil PH: 5.0 to 8.0 (alkaline tolerant, but can be sensitive to salt)
- Watering needs: Average, prefers moist ground. Can withstand sopping wet ground,i but can also tolerate short seasons of drought once established.ii
- Blooming Season: Mid-spring
- Harvest season: September-October
- Fruiting age: Unknown, but other viburnums tend to produce around year 4 or 5.
- Average mature yield:
- Pollination for Fruit: Nannyberry will need a second plant of a different variety, or another nannyberry plant grown from seed, to grow fruit. 1 Other pollination compatible viburnums include V. (Viburnum) obovatum (small-leaf viburnum), V. cassinoides (southern witherod), V. nudum (smooth witherod), V. elatum , V. rufidulum (rusty blackhaw), and V. prunifolium (blackhaw, or blackhaw viburnum).
- Size at maturity: 15-20 feet high (4.5 – 6 meters), 10-15 feet wide. (3 – 4.5 meters)
- Sun needs: Shade to full sun. Fruits better in the sun.
- Preferred habitat: A moist forest edge, lake shore, or riverbed.iii
- Growth rate (vigor): Fastiv (2 – 2.5 feet per year, or 60 – 75 cm)
- Natural reproductive rate (and methods): Medium, mostly by root-spreadv—though this happens more in the older years.vi Not considered an aggressive or “invasive” plant.
- Propagation method: Rooting branch cuttings; hardwoodvii or softwood.viii Seedsix by scarification or stratification. Also propagated by severing root sprouts.
- Average life span: 40 yearsx
- Plant family: Adoxaceae (Viburnum and elderberry family)
If you can’t find nannyberry at your local nursery, ask about sheepberry or sweet viburnum. They’re all the same thing—but check the botanical name, just to be sure. There are many viburnums, and many aren’t good eating like the nannyberry. Names like sweet viburnum are probably perpetuated by nurseries because of nannyberry’s aesthetic appeal. A close relative to the snowball bushes (Viburnum plicatum and Viburnum opulus), is has a similar white flower puff that makes for a beautiful addition to a spring garden—not to mention it’s value as a pollinator species, bringing in dozens of species of pollinators. It’s size and shape place it in the same function category as the lilac, as it can make a lovely, sweet smelling, windbreak hedge. The lush, green leaves of summer then give way to a beautiful maroon-red in autumn,xi making each season a unique experience of color, aroma, and of course, fruit!
The nannyberry fruit looks something like a cross between an elderberry and a honeyberry—blue-black and oval, but in bunches that make them easy to harvest. You will, however, want to remove or spit out the single large seed.
The flavor of the nannyberry is quite pleasant, and has been compared to the taste of figs, prunes, dates, and bananas. Nannyberries can be eaten fresh, dried, or cooked, and are used in making cakes, sauces, and pudding. From their figgy flavor, I can’t help considering a nannyberry pudding a potential substitute for figgy pudding at Christmastime. They are certainly popular for jams and jellies. 2
1Nannyberry also pollinates well with Blackhawberry (viburnum prunifolium, Viburnum rufidulum, ) and witherod (viburnum nudum, viburnum cassinoides). https://bmcecolevol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2148-12-73