A Wisconsin native deciduous shrub, vigorously suckering and spreading, Common Snowberry creates a cohesive bridge between ornamental interest and wildlife value in the landscape. With bluish-green foliage and dainty light-pink flower clusters, spring and summer interest is covered. As the leaves drop revealing wiry hollow stems, clusters of white berries appear in late fall and remain through the winter. This shrub’s habit provides food for some animals and a home underneath for others. May also be known as Waxberry and White Coralberry.
Common Snowberry has a suckering habit; it should be utilized in the landscape in a space large enough for it to mass and spread. The clusters of white berries that hang on through the winter provide seasonal interest, allowing for use as an ornamental shrub. Again, the suckering habit makes Common Snowberry an excellent choice for slopes or to prevent erosion, providing versatility. Tolerant of poor soil conditions, sandy soils, and heavy clay if you have the space, this is a relatively easy plant to site. Use in a screen or hedge or in naturalized woodland open areas, providing full sun to part shade. It is also used in rain gardens.
As a native shrub, Common Snowberry brings many attributes to wildlife. Although poisonous to humans due to saponins in the fruit, it does not pose danger to the many small mammals that use this plant’s berries for food. This includes deer, grouse, robins, and thrushes. Bears and larger animals like elk and moose are keen on the fruit. The shrub also provides cover and nesting sites for game birds, rabbits, and other small animals.
Symphoricapros albus clusters of flowers in spring/early summer attract hummingbirds, however, the shrub is more often pollinated by bees.
Lastly, the plant is a host for the Sphinx Moth larvae, its foliage providing a delicious treat!
If sited correctly, symphoricapros albus is a relatively maintenance-free shrub. Choose a site with adequate spacing, which will allow the plant to naturally sucker and colonize through its rhizomatic root system, and it can essentially be left alone once established. If you would prefer to keep a more maintained shrub for ornamental purposes, prune off suckers near the base of the shrub as they appear.
Common Snowberry does not have significant diseases or known pests that affect the overall health of the plant. However, Anthracnose, powdery mildew, leaf spot, and berry rot can occur.
The genus symphoricarpos is derived from Greek symphorein meaning ‘borne together’ and karpos meaning ‘fruit’ – in reference to the clusters of berries. The species name albus refers to the white berries.
Saponins in the fruit, which are toxic to some animals (like fish), were used to humans’ advantage in times past. Hunter tribes would put large enough quantities of the berries in streams or lakes to stupefy and even kill the fish, allowing them to gather them more effectively.
In humans, when the saponins were applied externally from a poultice of crushed leaves they are said to have a gentle cleansing and healing effect for wounds. There are multiple internal uses as well, the saponins are poorly absorbed by the body, still, some consider the plant poisonous giving it the common name ‘corpse berry’ or ‘snake’s berry’.
Common Snowberry is found from Alaska to southern California, and all across North America.
Combine Common Snowberry with other native shrubs and nativars to create a natural screen, like American Black Currant, Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba), Glossy Black Chokeberry and Ping Pong™ Buttonbush. Coralberry (S. orbiculatus) is a close relative to Common Snowberry that would make a great companion plant. If using in a rain garden setting choose other versatile native perennials like Cup Plant or Cardinal Flower for a pop of color.