Description & Overview
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 and should be used in the landscape in a space large enough for it to mass and spread. The clusters of white berries that persist 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 any danger to the many small mammals that use this plant’s berries for food. This includes White-tailed Deer, bears, elk, moose, American Robins, Swainson’s Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Greater Prairie Chicken, Pheasants, Ruffed Grouse, Bobwhite Quail, Evening Grosbeak, Cedar Waxwing, and Pine Grosbeak. The shrub also provides cover and nesting sites for game birds, rabbits, and other small animals.
Clusters of flowers in spring/early summer attract hummingbirds; however, the shrub is more often pollinated by bees. Visitors include Ruby-throated hummingbirds, honeybees, bumblebees, large carpenter bees, leaf-cutting bees, mason bees, green metallic bees, Andrenid bees, Vespid wasps, Syrphid flies, and Tachinid flies.
Common Snowberry is a host for the Snowberry Clearwing moth, Hummingbird Clearwing moth, White Spring moth, and Sphinx Moth.
Flowering in late-spring and early summer.
Fruits maturing in late-summer and early fall.
Fruits ripen in fall, adding winter interest.
If sited correctly, Symphoricarpos 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. It can essentially be left alone once established. If you prefer to keep a more maintained appearance 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. Anthracnose, powdery mildew, leaf spot, and berry rot can occur, although not detrimental to the health of the plant.
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. Hunters would put large 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 although 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, American Elderberry, 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, choose other versatile native perennials like Cup Plant, Red Milkweed, or Cardinal Flower for a pop of color.