The snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) is an impressive, hardy shrub able to serve in a sunny garden as erosion protection for a slope or to add interest with its attractive foliage and berries. Its branches, leaves and fruit serve wildlife and at the same time, add grace and beauty to a flower arrangement on a dining table. Add a slight element of danger and you have an interesting plant.
When planted in a sunny area of the garden, snowberry is a compact, 3- to 4-foot-tall shrub with dense branches. If you choose to plant in a shady area, it will become more sparsely branched and leggy, reaching its way up to 6 feet tall. Snowberry can add interest to a midspring garden with its lobed leaves and clusters of creamy white to light pink tubular flowers. The flowers will remain on the shrub until about July, when creamy white drupes form, ripening in August to September. The attractive, berrylike drupes remain on snowberry for months, adding cheer throughout the winter.
A native shrub, snowberry grows naturally in open forests, along stream beds and in swampy areas throughout much of North America. It is tolerant of many soil types but prefers heavy clay and is drought-tolerant. These facts make it possible you to be much more creative in the placement of this versatile shrub. Snowberry grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 10.
Small mammals, birds and insects may use your snowberry plant for nesting cover, shelter and food. Hummingbirds, butterflies and bees are attracted to the nectar of its flowers and many bird species, including robins and thrushes, enjoy the white fruit. Snowberry serves as a larval host plant to insects like the vashti sphinx moth, whose caterpillars feast on its leaves.
Snowberry fruits contain the toxin calcium oxalate and low concentrations of saponin, a bitter principle that foams in water. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources rates snowberry as a 2 on a safe plant list, which means it is considered to have minor toxicity. Eating it may cause minor illness, like vomiting or diarrhea. If a family member eats the raw drupes, call the Poison Control Center or your doctor, just to be safe. It is also listed on UC Davis Veterinary Toxic Plant Garden list, so call your veterinarian if you suspect your pet has eaten the raw fruit as well. Snowberry may also cause contact dermatitis.
- University of Oregon Environmental Studies Program: Symphoricarpos Albus, Snowberry
- The Metropolitan Field Guide: Wildlife Plants: Snowberry
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Symphoricarpos Albus (L.) Blake: Common Snowberry
- USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service: Snowberry
- USDA: Symphoricarpos Albus
- U.S. Forest Service Database: Symphoricarpos Albus
- Seven Oaks Native Nursery: Symphoricarpos Albus: Common Snowberry
- University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources: Safe and Poisonous Garden Plants
- UCDavis Veterinary Center: UCD Toxic Plant Garden
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images