Common Snowberry

Common Snowberry © SBernhard

Symphoricarpos albus var. laevigatus
NATIVE

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

  • Eudicotyledon
    • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Honeysuckle Family (Caprifoliaceae)
  • Deciduous shrub
    • Thicket-forming with upright, arching branches
    • Grows from rhizomes (horizontal underground stems)
  • Leaves
    • Opposite (2 leaves at each junction with stem)
    • Oval to oblong
    • Smooth (hairless)
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is a terminal raceme (unbranched stem with stalked flowers opening from the bottom up)
    • Up to 16 bell-shaped flowers
    • Buds are pink, turning white
    • Ovary inferior (below the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a white, spongy, berry-like drupe (a fleshy fruit with usually 1 seed in a hard inner shell — a stone fruit), containing 2 nutlets
  • Height to 6 ft.

Distribution

  • Native to California
    • Grows in woodlands, along stream banks and north-facing slopes
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Outside California grows from southern Alaska south to California and east to Montana and Colorado
    • Naturalized in eastern United States
  • Grows at elevations to 4,000 ft.

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Berry-like fruits, which are available in winter, are an important food source for many birds and mammals
  • Leaves browsed by deer
  • Habitat and coverage for birds and small mammals
  • Attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and many other pollinators
  • Native people had a variety of uses for snowberry
    • Medicinal uses
      • Infusion of roots for colds and stomach aches
      • Infusion of twigs for fever
      • Mashed fruit to treat sore eyes or itchy skin
    • Fruit used as a soap for hair or cleansing wash
    • Fruits used for fishing
      • Crushed fruits were thrown in great quantities into slow-moving creeks or pools to stun fish, aiding in their capture (Bressette 2017)
      • Soap-like saponins in the fruits enter through the gills and interfere with oxygen absorption and transport (Rosenthal 2014)
      • Fruits of California buckeye (Aesculus californica) and California manroot (Marah fabacea), as well as the bulbs of soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum var. pomeridianum), also contain saponins and were similarly used for fishing
    • Wood uses
      • Branches tied together for a broom
      • Wood used to construct cradle boards
      • Stems sharpened and used as root digging sticks
      • Hollow stems used for pipe stems and for arrow shafts for small bird hunting
  • CAUTION – fruit contains saponins, which are considered toxic
    • These berry-like fruits have such an unpleasant taste that one is not likely to eat a toxic quantity; best to leave them for wildlife
Leaves (L), Flowers (M), Fruit (R) © DSchiel

Name Derivation

  • Symphoricarpos (sim-for-i-KAR-pos) – from the Greek symphorein, “bunched together,” and karpos, “fruit,” referring to the fruit clusters
  • albus (AL-bus) – from the Latin for “white,” referring to the fruit
  • laevigatus (lee-vi-GAY-tus) – from the Latin laevis, “smooth” or “polished,” referring to the fruit

Notes

  • Since it grows from rhizomes, it is among the first plants to recolonize a site after fire
  • Fruit typically ripens by early September, coinciding with the dropping of leaves, and commonly remains on the plant over winter
  • Edgewood’s snowberry is classified as a variety
    • Subspecies rank is used to recognize geographic distinctiveness, whereas variety rank is appropriate for variants seen throughout the geographic range of the species; in practice, these two ranks are not distinct

ID Tips

  • May be confused with creeping snowberry (S. mollis)
    • Common snowberry
      • Upright shrub when mature
      • Height to 6 ft.
      • Clusters of 8-16 flowers
    • Creeping snowberry
      • Plant sprawling, low-growing shrub or ground cover
      • Height to 2 ft.
      • Clusters of 2-8 flowers

At Edgewood

  • Found in woodlands, especially in areas with more shade and moisture
    • Found along the Sylvan trail near the waterfall; also on the upper woodland area of the Edgewood trail
    • See iNaturalist for observations of Symphoricarpos albus
  • Flowers April – June

See General References

Specific References

Bressette, D.K. 2017, Feb. 27. Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus. Native Plants PNW.

McWilliams, J. 2000. Symphoricarpos albus. Fire Effects Information System. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.

Rosenthal, S. 2014, Jan. 13. The many uses of spring-blooming soaproot. Bay Nature.