Snowberry

Snowberry © SBernhard

Common Snowberry
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 (flowers attached on short, equal stalks to a central stem)
      • 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 (Picking or removing any natural material from public land is illegal)

        • 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
          • Large quantities of mashed fruit put into still water to catch fish (saponins affect fish gills)
          • 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)
                • 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 this plant
                    • Note observations are for Symphoricarpos albus
                • Flowers April – June

                See General References

                Specific References

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