June 2002
Plant of the Month
(A Symphony of Symphoricarpos)
zone: 4
by Jeff Gillman

Snowberry, Chenault Coralberry, Indiancurrant and Wolfberry are the names most commonly associated with the genus Symphoricarpos, a very underappreciated genus which is not found enough in our landscapes and gardens. Although some of the species of Symphoricarpos are exotics, the most common species, S. albus (Snowberry), S. occidentalis (Wolfberry) and S. orbiculatis (Coralberry) are native.

The most alluring asset of these plants is their fruit which sets late in the fall in bunches. Fruit color can range from white (hence the name Snowberry for S. albus) to red, as with some forms of S. x chenaultii. Fruits may or may not make it through the winter depending on whether they are attacked by disease. Although diseases affect the fruit readily, the rest of the plant is not frequently attacked.

Symphoricarpos species do very well in shady locations and are extremely tolerant of soil type. Alkaline soils, like those that we find all over Minnesota, are not particularly harmful to these shrubs making them a great choice for land that might otherwise be difficult to plant. These plants also tolerate “wet feet” better than most. Borders, edges, and difficult to fill areas are custom made for this group of plants. If an incline needs to be stabilized then these are the perfect plants to accomplish the task. Generally these plants will spread themselves through suckers over the area, filling the area in and helping to hold the soil.

Propagation is very easy. In fact, this is one of the plants that was easily propagated through cuttings before the advent of synthetic rooting hormones.

Beside a pond, under a tree, on a steep incline with a little topsoil, in a garden where a little fall color from berries would add to the garden, or in any location where a native shrub would be a welcome addition. These are the places to locate this fine and underutilized genus.

Jeff Gillman
University of Minnesota
Nursery Management Specialist

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