Name:  Blackhaw

Botanical Name:Viburnum prunifolium

Form: shrub or small tree

Parts Used: berries, browse

Citation: Guenther, K. (2017, January 12) Blackhaw as wildlife food [Web log post.] Retrieved: Reader supplies the date, from

Viburnum fruit

Getting Started

Blackhaw is one of my favorite shrubs to forage. It’s a good bet that all thrushes will like the berries. Blackhaw is scattered throughout the woods of my area, yet was invisible to me for years until I learned to pay attention to their spring bloom when they stand out against the green background. Viburnums as a whole rank #21 on our Favorite Fruits List, and #18 on our Best Browse List.  The berries are just beautiful hanging against their rich, fall red foliage. Though this is not the easiest beginner forage plant to find and identify, it is also not hard to find blackhaw by training your eye to look for the spring white blooming shrubs in wild woods and making note of where to come back to for fall fruit. Start looking for the white clusters of blooms from mid-April to mid-May. Take some flagging tape and mark the shrub with some notes to guide you back to the location for fruit in the fall. Since these are an understory shrub, they just seem to blend into the scenery from any distance once they lose their flowers.

Adoxaceae (Viburnum family)

Viburnum (Viburnum genus)

Blackhaw bloom.


Common name Virginia Viburnum  Species Origin Rare Plant Status
maple-leaf viburnum V. acerifolium native not rare
northern wild raisin V. cassinoides  native not rare
arrow-wood V. dentatum  native not rare
linden arrow-wood V. dilatatum non-native not rare
hobblebush V. lantanoides native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
nannyberry V. lentago native Globally secure, critically imperiled in Virginia
possum-haw V. nudum native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
snowball V. opulus  native and introduced not rare
japanese snowball V. plicatum  non-native not rare
black haw V. prunifolium  native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
downy arrow-wood V. rafinesqueanum native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
rusty black haw V. rufidulum native not rare
tea viburnum V. setigerum native not rare
siebold’s viburnum V. sieboldii non-native not rare
Distribution of <i>Viburnum prunifolium</i> L.
Range map: USDA, NRCS. (2015). The PLANTS Database, National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA. Retrieved on a variety of dates from 2015-2017 from

Key Features to Look For

In addition to the identification guide of your choice, here are a couple of features you should see on this shrub:

  • Opposite branching
  • Black/blue shiny berries in clusters on red stems and clusters hang downward, berries are green on red stems when immature
  • Dry berries, not juicy, with a single, large, flat, oval seed
  • Arching branches
  • Very fine teeth on the leaves
  • Multiple trunks
  • Typical multiple trunks of viburnum shrubs.

About this Species

This fall food is utilized widely across mammals and birds. Due to the berry’s dry nature, it persists on the bush for up to a month or more. Some bushes can be very heavily laden in some years.

Flower Description: Small, 5-petalled white individual flowers with tall yellow anthers, many flowers make up a showy rounded clusters the size of your fist. Blooms mid April to mid-May.

Notice the tall, light yellow stamens that rise above the 5 white petals of blackhaw.
Notice the branching patterns of the flower corymb from the underside that supports the large cluster of flowers.

Leaf Description:  Opposite leaves, elliptical and very finely toothed. Leaf stems tinged with red.

Topside blackhaw leaf. Notice the red leaf stem.
Underside, blackhaw leaf.

Seed/ Fruit Size: Berry clusters hang downward and have red stems on the berries. The ripe fruit is shiny black when ripe, slightly elliptical with a 3/32 inch (2 mm) petiole (stem) that stays attached to fruit after picking. The berry itself is about 3/8 inch (10 mm) long by ¼ inch (7 mm) wide, but the seed inside is only slightly smaller than the fruit but is very flat—only 3/32 inch (2 mm) thick. So there is not a lot of flesh on this fruit, it is not juicy, even at peak ripeness. Sometimes the berry even starts to dry and shrivel on the bush.

Notice the shape of the seed below the ruler.
Notice that the berries do not all ripen at once. Since these fruits are long lasting on the plant, wait for all the fruit to mature before picking.


Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
winter winter late winter early spring spring late spring early summer summer late summer early fall fall late fall
fruit x x x x x
browse x x x x x x x x x x x

Is this a good enrichment item? Not great, really, though maybe you could prune off the ends of branches and wrap in a sheet for transport and install in enclosures being careful not to bump off the berry clusters.

Harvesting Fruit: Berries turn from green to yellow/chartreuse to pinkish before turning deep blue/black. All the berries do not ripen exactly at the same time. Handpick berries only when they are a ripe, deep blue/black.

Immature fruit in July.

Storing Prepared Fruit

Commercial berry containers are great for storing fruit because the rigid plastic keeps fruit from getting crushed and they also have small holes in them which control the humidity in the container. This slows the fruit from drying out too quickly, but allows air circulation to reduce molding.

Viburnum berries keep well in re-used commercial clamshell berry containers in the refrigerator for one to two weeks. It is ideal to use this fruit fresh, if at all possible.For a fruit, they freeze somewhat well and are not as mushy as most fruits upon thawing due to their lower moisture content. Nutrients will be preserved if frozen.

Spread berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place in freezer for 1 day. Once frozen, repackage them into zipping freezer baggies (3 mils or thicker) or glass jars to keep them from drying out, remove as much air as possible from the baggie, label and store in freezer until needed—no more than 1 year. Avoid freezing, thawing and refreezing as might happen in a door of a freezer.

See more detailed instructions under the tab “Food Harvest, Process and Storage.”

Harvesting Browse

Browse as a term used on this website refers to the twigs and small branches, with or without leaves or needles, of trees, shrubs, vines and other woody stemmed plants.  Browse can also refer to bark, for the animals that gnaw on bark.

Small trees cannot tolerate very much cutting and survive. The best time to harvest browse for the health of the tree is late fall to winter, but that may not be when you need the browse. The best limbs to remove are ones that rub together and cause abrasions that can make the tree vulnerable to insect damage. Or, cut branches that are overcrowded or hang low to the ground. Prune branches back to the base where the branch meets the trunk to minimize future insect damage to the tree.

Dip pruning shears into a bleach water solution (1:3) to minimize transferring tree diseases from one tree to the next.

Place the cut end of the browse in a bucket of water as soon as possible after cutting- ideally taking a bucket of what with you as you harvest because the branch will start to close itself off the instant it is injured. Then keep them in water as much as possible prior to feeding, which ideally means even during transport.Keep bucket of browse in the shade.

Browse cuttings are best fed to animals right away, they do not store well for more than a day before the leaves start to wilt and dry out, especially if it is hot.

Other Viburnum Species

Squashberry fruit matures in late July in my area.
Squashberry, is another viburnum species, but one that has pretty different flowers and red, juicier berries than blackhaw.

Squashberry fruit in May, hangovers from last year with this year’s bloom also in the photo.

Rare Viburnum Species in Virginia

Do you live in one of these Virginia counties? If so, be aware that there are some species near you that may be threatened or endangered. Do more research to make sure you are identifying your target species correctly and not harvesting a threatened species!

That being said, I think species-level ID is a little bit difficult for viburnums. So I felt validated for the difficulty I was having when I read that nannyberry and rusty blackhaw sometimes hybridize with blackhaw.  Since I wouldn’t want to physically damage an imperiled species, I would not harvest browse from blackhaw in the below listed counties, just in case I was off on my species ID and had nannyberry in hand instead.

County in Virginia Rare Viburnum Species Alert
Augusta nannyberry globally secure, critically imperiled in Virginia
Giles nannyberry globally secure, critically imperiled in Virginia
Highland nannyberry globally secure, critically imperiled in Virginia
Page nannyberry globally secure, critically imperiled in Virginia

Feed Blackhaw and other Viburnums to:


(Viburnum spp.)


Beaver, American

Castor canadensis

Cottontail, Eastern

Sylvilagus floridanus

Deer, White-tailed

Odocoileus virginianus

Elk, Rocky Mountain

Cervus elaphus

Hare, Snowshoe

Lepus americanus


Alces americanus

Skunk, Striped

Mephitis mephitis

Squirrel, American Red

Tamiasciurus hudsonicus

Squirrel, Eastern Fox

Sciurus niger

Squirrel, Eastern Gray

Sciurus carolinensis


(Viburnum spp.)


Bear, American Black

Ursus americanus

Chipmunk, Eastern

Tamias striatus

Cottontail, Eastern

Sylvilagus floridanus

Deer, White-tailed

Odocoileus virginianus

Fox, Red

Vulpes vulpes

Mouse, Common White-footed

Peromyscus leucopus

Skunk, Striped

Mephitis mephitis

Squirrel, American Red

Tamiasciurus hudsonicus

Squirrel, Eastern Fox

Sciurus niger

Squirrel, Eastern Gray

Sciurus carolinensis

Bluebird, Eastern

Sialia sialis

Cardinal, Northern

Cardinalis cardinalis

Catbird, Gray

Demetella carolinensis

Finch, Purple

Carpodacus purpureus

Flicker, Northern

Colaptes auratus

Flycatcher, Great-crested

Myiarchus crinitus

Grosbeak, Rose-breasted

Pheucticus ludovicianus

Jay, Blue

Cyanocitta cristata

Mockingbird, Northern

Mimus polyglottos

Phoebe, Eastern

Sayornis phoebe

Robin, American

Turdus migratorius

Sparrow, Song

Melospiza melodia

Sparrow, White-throated

Zonotrichia albicollis

Starling, European

Sturnus vulgaris

Thrasher, Brown

Toxostoma rufum

Thrush, Bicknell's

Catharus bicknelli

Thrush, Gray-cheeked

Catharus minimus

Thrush, Hermit

Catharus guttatus

Thrush, Swainson's

Catharus ustulatus

Thrush, Wood

Hylocichla mustelina

Vireo, Blue-headed

Vireo solitarius

Vireo, Red-eyed

Vireo olivaceus

Vireo, White-eyed

Vireo griseus

Warbler, Yellow-rumped

Dendroica coronata

Waxwing, Cedar

Bombycilla cedrorum

Woodpecker, Pileated

Dryocopus pileatus

Bobwhite, Northern

Colinus virginianus

Grouse, Ruffed

Bonasa umbellus

Grouse, Sharp-tailed

Tympanuchus phasianellus

Pheasant, Ring-necked

Phasianus colchicus

Turkey, Wild

Meleagris gallopavo

Book Resources:

Martin, A.C., Zim, H.S., Nelson, A.L. (1951). American Wildlife and Plants: A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits. New York: Dover Publications.

Scott, M. (2013). Songbird Diet Index. National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, St. Cloud, MN.

Townsend, J. F. (2015, April) Rare Plants Natural Heritage Technical Report 15-10. (Unpublished Report) Richmond, Virginia: Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage.

On-line Resources:

Coladonato, Milo. 1993. Viburnum acerifolium. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
Available: [2016, November 15].

Matthews, Robin F. 1992. Viburnum edule. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
Available: [2017, February 2].

USDA, NRCS. 2015. The PLANTS Database (, 24 November 2015). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Virginia Botanical Associates. (Accessed November 2015). Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora ( c/o Virginia Botanical Associates, Blacksburg.