The American cranberrybush is from the northern parts of North America. It can be found from the Atlantic seaboard almost across to the Pacific, usually as one of the shrubs under the deciduous forest canopy, where it grows somewhat straggly due to lack of light. In sunnier spots it grows erect and dense.
In 1753 when Linné gave this shrub the specific name opulus it was a reference to the field or hedge maple (Acer campestre), called by the Romans Opulus, which Guelder rose resembles in some ways, for example in the three-lobed leaves. Guelder rose grows naturally in Finland in rich mires and along streams.