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How to identify the bush with small white flowers and berries

Updated February 21, 2017

Native to the United States, common elder (Sambucus canadensis), serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium), mountain ash (Sorbus spp.), red osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), red-berried elder (Sambucus pubens) and wild raisin (Viburnum cassinoides) are hardy, perennial shrubs that present white flowers in spring and produce edible berries. These plants provide a habitat and food source for birds and wildlife. By closely examining the plant, it is fairly easy to identify shrubs and bushes that present white flowers, followed by berries.

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  1. Inspect and smell the flowers. For example, late in the spring, when leaves are almost fully grown, the choke cherry bush exhibits an abundance of tiny white flowers. The flowers have five petals. They grow in tight clusters or drooping racemes, 1 to 2 inches long. Choke cherry is a shrub that grows from 10 to 20 feet tall at maturity.

  2. Serviceberry is a small shrub or bush that is also known as Indian pear, Saskatoon, wild pear, Juneberry or shadbush. Reaching 15 to 18 feet tall at maturity, serviceberry presents vivid white flowers with five elongated petals.

  3. Common Elder is a small decideous shrub, also known as elderberry, that exhibits 3- to 6-inch clusters of very tiny white flowers. Both flowers and berries are edible.

  4. High Bush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) presents small four-petal white flowers in early June.

  5. Examine the bark of the branches and stems. The colour and texture of bark is a primary tool in shrub and tree identification. Choke cherry trees exhibit a thin, greyish-brown bark that is smooth. Scratch the bark. Choke cherry bark has a distinctive sharp, sweet and spicy herbaceous fragrance with astringent properties.

  6. Serviceberry bark is brownish-grey with vertical darker striping. Mature bark has a flaking texture. Highbush cranberry exhibits a grey-brown smooth bark.

  7. Elderberry bark is brownish-grey and heavily textured. The branches are woody and weak, often breaking off in high winds or under a heavy winter snow accumulation.

  8. Look at the leaves of the bush or small tree. Choke cherry leaves are alternate and oval shaped, 1 to 2 inches long. The foliage is a dull medium green with a greyish-green underside. The edges of choke cherry leaves are sharply serrated with distinctive "teeth" pointing upward. Choke cherry trees are deciduous and lose their leaves in the fall. Serviceberry presents 3-inch-long deep green non-serrated leaves. Elderberry leaves are deep green, 3 to 5 inches long and present a very unpleasant odour when crushed. Highbush cranberry leaves are three-lobed and serrated, a deep green in colour.

  9. Consider the size, shape and colour of the berry. Chokecherries are a bright red prior to ripening, and turn a deep purple after the first frost. The serviceberry turns a deep purplish-blue. Elderberries are presented in firm clumps. They are not ready for harvest until after the first frost, when they turn a deep blackish-purple. Highbush cranberries are a deep bright red when ripe. The berries remain on the bush throughout the winter, providing winter food for birds and wildlife.

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Things You'll Need

  • Plant guide book

About the Author

A passionate writer for more than 30 years, Marlene Affeld writes of her love of all things natural. Affeld's passion for the environment inspires her to write informative articles to assist others in living a green lifestyle. She writes for a prominent website as a nature travel writer and contributes articles to other online outlets covering wildlife, travel destinations and the beauty of nature.

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