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
    • 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)
    • 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

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