Is sno berry a real berry?

Plant of the Week

Gaultheria hispidula range map. USDA PLANTS Database.

Mat of creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula) stems with one fruit and Sphagnum moss. Ottawa National Forest, Michigan. Photo by Ian Shackleford.

Pile of creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula) fruits with a sample stem. Ottawa National Forest, Michigan. Photo by Ian Shackleford.

Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula)

By Ian Shackleford, Botanist Ottawa National Forest

Creeping snowberry is a low trailing perennial plant found in bogs and wetland forests in the northern United States and Canada. The leaves are round and only 5 to 10 millimeters long. The creeping stems form leafy mats on logs and hummocks, often near Sphagnum moss. The stems and under-surface of the leaves are covered with brown bristles. Sometimes the leaf margins and fruits have the bristles too. Flowers appear in the spring, and are white, four-parted, on short backward-curving stalks from the leaf axils.

The flowers develop into small white berries, egg-shaped and 5-10 mm long, ripening in mid to late summer. The berries are edible and have a spectacular wintergreen flavor, similar to the related wintergreen plant (Gaultheria procumbens). The flavor is more concentrated in the snowberry, and has been compared with that of a wet Tic-Tac. To find creeping snowberry fruits, look for the mats of tiny leaves, then crouch down to find the white fruits. They may be hidden among the small leaves.

Creeping snowberry is in the Heath family (Ericaceae). It fits in that family due to being a woody plant, flower characters, the way the anthers release their pollen, and a fondness for acid habitats.

Creeping snowberry is rare at the southern end of its range. It is state-protected in Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

The genus Gaultheria was named for Hugues Gaultier ,a naturalist and physician in Quebec in mid-18th century. The Latin name hispidula refers to the bristles on the stem and leaves.

Another common name is “moxie” or “moxie plum.” The word “moxie” may be derived from the Algonquian Indian word “maski”, meaning “medicine”. Moxie is better-known today thanks to the soft drink created by Dr. Augustin Thompson (1835-1903). He created the patent medicine “Moxie Nerve Food” which he later developed into the soft drink “Beverage Moxie Nerve Food” which eventually became just “Moxie.” The soft drink reportedly was flavored with extract of gentian root and wintergreen. Extensive advertising in the 1920s brought the word into popular usage, as in “This guy’s got moxie!” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines moxie as energy, pep, courage, determination, or know-how. In the 2009 film Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Amelia Earheart (Amy Adams) tells the night watchman (Ben Stiller) that he needs to find his moxie. Next time you are in a northern wetland forest, you can find your own moxie.

For More Information

  • PLANTS Profile – Gaultheria hispidula, creeping snowberry

Snowberry Bush Care: How To Grow Snowberry Shrubs

While common snowberry shrubs (Symphoricarpos albus) may not be the most beautiful or best-behaved shrubs in the garden, they have features that keep them interesting throughout most of the year. The shrub blooms in spring, with small but dense clusters of bell-shaped, white flowers at the ends of the branches. In fall, the flowers are replaced by clusters of white berries. The berries are the showiest feature of the shrub and last well into winter.

Where to Plant Snowberry Bushes

Plant snowberries in full sun or partial shade. The shrubs are found naturally along stream banks and in swampy thickets, but they thrive in dry areas as well. They tolerate a wide range of soil types, and while they prefer clay, they also grow well in sandy and rocky soils. Snowberries are rated for USDA plant hardiness zones 2 through 7.

Snowberries are an asset in wildlife gardens where they provide food and shelter for birds and small mammals. Bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds are attracted to the shrub. They also do well in exposed areas where they tolerate strong winds. Vigorous roots make the plants suitable for soil stabilization on hillsides and stream banks.

Snowberry Plant Info

Even though wildlife enjoys eating the fruit of the snowberry bush, it is poisonous to humans and should never be eaten. Some experts claim that you can eat the berries if you pick and cook them at just the right stage of maturity, but it’s a risk not worth taking.

Snowberry bush care is intensive because of the vigorous suckering and the numerous diseases that infect the plant. Anthracnose, powdery mildew, rusts, and rots are just a few of the problems that infest snowberries. Pulling up and cutting off suckers is a constant chore.

How to Grow Snowberry Shrubs

Snowberries grow about 3 feet (1 m.) tall and 6 feet (2 m.) wide, but you should plant them a little further apart. You’ll need room for maintenance and space to allow good air circulation to help cut down on the incidence of disease.

Keep the soil moist until the plant is established. Afterward, it tolerates dry spells. Common snowberry doesn’t need annual fertilization but will appreciate an application of balanced fertilizer every other year or so.

Prune regularly to remove diseased and damaged parts of the shrub. Where diseases like powdery mildew are serious problems, try to open up the shrub to allow better air circulation. Remove suckers as they appear.


Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade. The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas. For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to [email protected] Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

‘Early Amethyst’ beautyberry, Callicarpa dichotoma

For fall and winter ornamental interest, you can’t beat berries. They are incredibly showy and last much longer than flowers. They attract birds to my garden when they come in flocks to feast on the bounty—sometimes sooner than I would like. And this year seems to be the best year ever for fruit production. All my berry producing plants are loaded. Is it because of all the rain we had this summer? Or does it portend a hard winter like the presence of lots of acorns? Who knows, but I am enjoying them and want to share some of my favorites with you.


‘Red Sprite’ winterberry holly, Ilex verticillata


‘Red Sprite’


Winterberry holly is a must for fall interest. It is a native deciduous holly that grows in sun to part shade and is salt and wet site tolerant. Just remember that like all hollies, it requires a male and female plant to produce fruit. ‘Red Sprite’ is more compact than most winterberries at five feet tall and four feet wide, it never needs pruning. My plants drape down over the wall of one of my terraces and are stunning this time of year. ‘Red Sprite’ produces more profusely than most winterberries, and its berries are larger and very showy. Unfortunately the robins know this too, and they sweep in and strip the bush in one day.


‘Early Amethyst’ beautyberry


The fruit clusters of Callicarpa dichotoma, an Asian native, are held away from the branch on a stalk, whereas the fruit of C. americana (photo below) surrounds the branch.


The fruit of beautyberries, both native and non-native, is such a striking purple color that it stops people in their tracks. I have written about ‘Early Amethyst’ before in Woody Plants for Shade Part 3 so you can go there for all the details. ‘Early Amethyst’ is a much more fine-textured plant than the American native and fits well in a mixed border. In the last few years, I have cut my plants back to 12 to 24″ in the spring, and they have grown back to produce a 5 to 6′ plant with a beautiful habit (see top photo).

hardy begonia, B. grandis


hardy begonia


No, hardy begonias do not produce fruit. But the persistent seed pods and pink stems remain quite ornamental after the flowers drop off. They decorate my whole back hillside. For more information on hardy begonias, read this post Hardy Begonias for Fall Color.


‘Winter King’ green hawthorn, Crataegus viridis


‘Winter King’ hawthorn


I have had my ‘Winter King’ hawthorn for over 15 years, and it has never produced like this. It has a prime position outside my living room windows, and the view is amazing. Green hawthorn is a native plant adaptable to many locations and soil types. ‘Winter King’ is said to reach 30′ tall and 25′ wide in sun to part sun, although my mature plant is smaller. In the spring, fluffy white flowers cover the tree, and its silver bark is also attractive. ‘Winter King’ is a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society gold medal plant. For more information, read the PHS write up.


American beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, it is difficult to get a good distance shot of the fruit when the leaves are still on. However, they will drop shortly and the berries will persist.


The fruit of American beautyberry surrounds the branch.


I have been looking for American beautyberry to add to my garden for almost 20 years and just installed three shrubs last fall. Although I have the Asian variety and like it, there is something about the color (blackberry purple?) and placement of the larger berries on the American variety that I find more attractive. As with a lot of North American plants, it is less refined and bigger than its Asian counterpart so not suitable for a mixed border. For more information, go to Woody Plants for Shade Part 9.


‘Amethyst’ coral berry, Symphoricarpos x doorenbosii, I must have taken 25 photos in an attempt to show you how beautiful this shrub is even from a distance but could not get one that does it justice.


‘Amethyst’ coral berry


New to me this fall, ‘Amethyst’ coral berry has everything I am looking for in a shrub. It is a cross between two Pennsylvania native shrubs, and it grows to 3 to 5′ tall with a similar spread in part shade but is full shade tolerant. It is deer resistant and the gorgeous and unusual bright pink berries are attractive to birds. For more information, go to Woody Plants for Shade Part 9.

I have highlighted just a few of the plants that are making my fall garden as enjoyable as my spring display. Enjoy the remaining warm days of fall and pray for rain. Meanwhile, all new plantings and drought susceptible established plants should be watered deeply twice a week.



Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S., zone 6b. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and miniature hostas and only within the US.

If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to [email protected] Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

Nursery Happenings: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is closed for the winter. Look for the 2014 Snowdrop Catalogue in early January.

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This entry was posted on October 30, 2013 at 12:13 pm and is filed under Fall, Fall Color, my garden, native plants, Shade Gardening, Shade Shrubs, winter interest with tags ‘Early Amethyst’ beautyberry, ‘Red Sprite’ winterberry holly, ‘Winter King’ green hawthorn, American beautyberry, Amethyst coral berry, Begonia grandis, Callicarpa americana, Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Early Amethyst’, Carolyn’s Shade Gardens, Crataegus viridis Winter King, hardy begonia, Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, Symphoricarpos Amethyst. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

By Amanda Strack, Conservation Garden Park

We all have places in our landscape that greet us with certain challenges. One of the challenges I have recently faced while creating new designs for the Conservation Garden Park are dry shade areas. We’re re-designing areas that used to be full sun but as the landscape has grown, the beds are now shaded by mature trees and shrubs. Those same plants have also created a lot of root competition which makes it difficult for smaller plants to thrive. Luckily, there are some wonderful plants that do well in shade and, as an added bonus, provide some great foliage color to brighten up those shady areas.

Whenever I am planning for dry shade, my go-to plant palette typically starts with native plants. Here in Utah we have many beautiful native plant species that are proven successful in our climate. Below are some of my favorite plant selections for the dry shade garden.

  1. Mountain Snowberry (Symphoricampos utahensis) Mountain Snowberry is a small shrub that can thrive in quite a bit of shade. It has petite bell-shaped flowers and white berries which are especially showy in the fall. There are several desirable cultivars of Snowberry that bring even more impact. ‘Blade of Sun’ Snowberry offers additional interest in the form of striking chartreuse colored foliage; it is low growing, so it can be used more as a groundcover rather than a shrub. Another cultivar, ‘Amethyst’ offers pink-purple berries instead of the traditional white.
  1. Mallow-leaf Ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceous) A dry shade native shrub. It is a member of the rose family and is a small growing shrub with white/pink flowers that bloom in late spring through early summer. The Mallow-leaf Ninebark has exfoliating bark and leaves that turn red in the fall.
  1. Kashmir Sage (Phlomis cashmieriana) Dry shade plants don’t have to be selected from native Utah plants. Kashmir Sage is native to the Himalayas and Kashmir but is adapted to our climate. Kashmir Sage is a very drought tolerant plant and can grow in full shade conditions. It has silvery foliage and is a large plant, growing 3-4ft. tall. It can add structure and color to any garden but is invaluable when planning a dry shade garden.
  1. Red Barrenwort (Epimedium x rubrum), is another wonderful full shade plant. Unlike Kashmir Sage, Red Barrenwort is better used as a groundcover or border plant. It has a typical woodland landscape look with green heart-shaped leaves that are tinged with red around the edges as they emerge. Red Barrenwort has red and yellow flowers that bloom in April and the leaves turn red in the fall, adding autumn interest to your shade garden.

To get more ideas for dry shade plants, visit the new Conservation Garden Park blog at We’re pleased to announce that the Garden is now on spring hours. Visit from 8 am to 6:30 pm, Monday- Saturday. Admission to the Garden is free! 8275 South 1300 West, West Jordan, Utah.

Shrubs With White Berries

white berries image by maureen dainty from

Several shrubs with white berries are used for landscaping; the aesthetic effect is a pleasant one, as the white berries contrast nicely with the foliage. Shrubs in general are hardy throughout the growing season, and, depending on the shrub, even into the fall and winter. Most shrubs are low-maintenance, requiring fertilizing once per year and minimal pruning.

Redosier Dogwood

The Redosier dogwood produces white berries and small, white flowers. The bark is dull red. If you do not prune for shape, this shrub must be pruned back every three years so that it keeps the bark color. Several cultivars exist, including the Baileyi and the Cardinal. The Baileyi has larger branches that are brownish-red rather than dull red. The fruits are light bluish instead of white. The Cardinal has brighter twig color, but has poorer fall color than the other cultivars. The Cardinal’s berries are white, as are the Siberian’s berries. Redosier dogwoods grow in USDA hardiness zones 2 through 7, and prefer full sun (more than 6 hours of continuous sunlight per day).

Trailing Snowberry

The trailing snowberry is native California shrub. It is found outside California, but only grown in western North America. It is also known as the creeping snowberry. This shrub is abundant in the Yellow Pine Forest, the Lodgepole Forest, and the Red Fir Forest. The trailing snowberry spreads by trailing stems that grow along the ground. Its white berries grow on the shrubs throughout the winter.

White Berry Nandina

The white berry Nandina grows in USDA hardiness zones 6 to 9. It is an evergreen shrub with a moderate growth rate. The white berry Nandina prefers well-drained, moist soil, and grows up to 6 feet in height if left unpruned. During the spring, the white berry Nandina produces white flowers and creamy, white berries. The foliage does not have the red tint that most other nandinas have, and turns yellow-green during the winter.

By Brandy Saffell and Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension

Snowberry leaves and fruit in the fall. Photo: Pat Breen, OSU

If one of your land management goals is to provide wildlife habitat, you’ll want to consider keeping a mix of native shrub species on your property. Shrubs provide a host of services to wildlife, including shelter or cover, nesting space, and food from their twigs, leaves, flowers, and fruit. With thought given to species selection and location, retaining existing shrubs or planting them can benefit wildlife without compromising timber growth or forest operations. This is the second article in our Shrubs for Wildlife series (first is here). Each article will highlight one species that benefits wildlife in northwest Oregon forests.

Species Name: Common snowberry – Symphoricarpos albus

Description: Snowberry is a medium sized shrub, growing in thickets and up to six feet tall. The leaves are simple, opposite, deciduous, and variable in shape. They are generally oval but can be nearly round (3/4 – 2 1/2” long). The leaf edges vary from entire to shallowly lobed on the same plant and same stem. The flowers are small (1/4”), pink-white, bell-shaped, and found in clusters at the end of the branch. The round, white, waxy berries persist into the winter; they are non-edible to humans and toxic due to the saponin they contain. Twigs are opposite, slender, smooth, and yellow-brown.

Small pink blossoms are present this time of year. Photo: A. Grotta

Wildlife Value: Snowberry is useful to pollinators as a host and food plant. The flowers attract Anna’s and rufous hummingbirds, as well as various insects including bees. Several birds have been observed eating the berries, such as towhees, thrushes, robins, grosbeaks, and waxwings. Birds also use snowberry thickets for cover. In addition, the Vashti sphinx moth (Sphinx vashti) relies on it as a food plant in its larval stage.

Management Considerations: Following harvest, snowberry resprouts readily from belowground. To ensure optimum survival and growth of planted trees, control snowberry where it is likely to overtop planted seedlings. Consider retaining snowberry plants on the site where they are not in direct competition with seedlings. For those who would like to actively enhance wildlife habitat by planting snowberry, it tolerates a variety of environments, and can be planted in coarse sand to fine-textured clay, full sun to dense understory, dry well-drained slops to moist stream banks, and low to high nutrient soils. It also establishes readily and tolerates general neglect.

Plant habit and fruit in winter. Photos: Pat Breen, OSU

If you are interested in learning more about creating wildlife habitat on your property, check out the Woodland Fish and Wildlife website.

Snowberry ~ The Name Says It Best

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on January 4, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)

Many gardeners love seeing wild birds almost as much as they enjoy flowers. We put up feeders of all kinds hoping to attract them to our little piece of Eden. Why stuff a feeder when your shrubs will provide food and beauty at the same time? The fruit, or berries, of the native snowberry, also known as ice apple, Symphoricarpus albus, is enjoyed by pheasant, grouse, quail and other birds as well. Of course, the shrub will also provide winter shelter for wildlife and come spring, a nesting area for smaller birds.

Unfortunately, snowberry is poisonous to human beings. It contains the alkaloid chelidonine, which causes gastrointestinal problems and dizziness if eaten. The Canadian government, in its Poisonous Plants Information System, states that “the risk of severe poisoning does not appear great because of vomiting that occurs after ingesting.” The plant can also cause dermatitis. So this may not be a choice for those of you with small children.

According to the USDA, the native common snowberry is endangered in Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland (threatened), Massachusetts and presumed eradicated entirely in Ohio. As with all wild plants, you should be very careful to determine if that plant is protected before collecting any plant material.

Symphoricarpos is a member of the Honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae. This genus of plants is known collectively as snowberry. S. albus (alba), common snowberry, is native to the eastern half of the United States. A species native to the U.S. West is S. occidentalis, or wolfberry. There are many species and sub-species; mountain snowberry (S. oreophilus var. utahensis), creeping snowberry (S. mollis) and the pink-berried varieties (S. orbiculatus) which are known as coralberry. You may want to look online or at your local nursery for these as well as some named cultivars, even a few with variegated foliage. Heights range from 2 to 6 feet. Most are rated from zone 4 though 7 and some may be hardy to zone 2 or 3.

Coralberry (S. orbiculatus)

Another group of plants often referred to as snowberry are some of the Gaultherias from New Zealand; snowberry (Gaultheria hispida), mountain snowberry (G. depressa), scarlet snowberry (G. crassa), tall snowberry (G. rupestris) and northern snowberry (G. colensoi) among others. These plants are hardy from zone 7 to 9 and are unrelated to Symphoricarpos. You may know one of their cousins, a U.S. native, Gaultheria procumbens, or wintergreen. Photo at right is of Gaultheria hispida.

The western snowberry does have a bit of interesting history. Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, catalogued it in 1804 and even recognized it as a honeysuckle relative. Seeds were saved and sent to Philadelphia to a horticulturist named Bernard McMahon. In 1812, McMahon sent cuttings to Thomas Jefferson, who planted them in his garden. The cuttings thrived at Monticello and Jefferson wrote back to McMahon in October that they had “some of the most beautiful berries I have ever seen.” The following year, Jefferson forwarded cuttings to a friend in Paris. So snowberry bushes travelled half-way ’round the world on the basis of the pretty berries.

Western snowberry, S. occidentalis Common snowberry, S. alba

If you would like to grow snowberry in your home garden, ForestFarm has an excellent selection online. (I have no proprietary interest in this nursery, I just found a large variety of plants there and I have ordered from them before.) You can search PlantScout here at Dave’s Garden or ask at your favorite local nursery for other sources.

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Special thanks to the following DG members for the excellent photographs (top to bottom, left to right); Kell, frostweed, MartyJo, growin, kennedyh, Todd_Boland, arsenic

Canadian Government Biodiversity Control, Poisonous Plants Information System, 2006-05-30

USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Symphoricarpos albus (L.) Blake common snowberry.

Discovering Lewis & Clark , “Common Snowberry”, Joseph Mussulman, 06/04

Snowberry glistens

There are more berries than usual on snowberry plants this year. The flowers are tiny, pink in colour and hardly noticeable tucked away amid the leaves in summer. Nor are the berries very visible either until the last of the leaves fall, which happened in the last couple of weeks. The last few yellow leaves can look very attractive along with the pearl-like berries.

While the shrub is well known and grows all over the country, it would appear to be native but it is not. It is native to the western coastal states of North America. Planted originally as cover for pheasants it has found its way into hedges and woodlands. This shrub suckers readily at the roots and spreads outwards to make a broad thicket several metres across. It could keep on spreading but it tends to run into an obstacle, such as a large tree or heavy shade. It has been known to get under garden walls, its root suckers passing under the foundations. It looks well under tall trees as a kind of groundcover but this ordinary kind is generally too vigorous for gardens and it is likely that many stands of it originated as garden discards.

The ordinary snowberry is the one seen growing semi-wild. There are other kinds that are better behaved.

‘Mother of Pearl’ has a drooping habit and white berries with a pink flush. ‘White Hedge’ has a compact growth habit and is upright with white fruits. ‘Hancock’ is low and spreading, often rooting where it touches the soil, and it has pink berries. ‘Magic Berry’ is low and bushy with rose-pink berries.

Although it tolerates light shade very well, the shrub produces more berries if grown in sunshine, at least for part of the day. It can look very pretty dotted with white berries caught in the winter light against a shaded background.

In a shady place, the foliage takes on a lovely softness, almost flimsy in appearance. The plant grows in any kind of soil that is not waterlogged but thrives best in well-drained leafy soil such as that found in woodland, similar to its natural habitat.

Is my cyclamen rotting in wet compost?

“I planted winter pansies, violas, mini-cyclamen and cyclamen in my window boxes in late September. The compost is very wet and the cyclamen may be rotting. I have deadheaded but little further flowering has occurred. Do I need to dry out window boxes and if so how? Also, should I fertilise to encourage growth and if so, with what type of product?” Yvonne, Co Louth

While mini-cyclamen can be grown outdoors, the large-flowered cyclamen is not an outdoor plant as it needs a cool room indoors. Growth is running down now. Ensure that drainage from the boxes is working and that there is no undue drip from the roof or gutters. No feeding is necessary now, but you could liquid feed in early spring as growth picks up.

Send your questions to [email protected] Questions can only be answered on this page.

Sunday Indo Business

Symphoricarpos: Snowberry

Spend any time in the woods on either side of the Cascades, and you will probably encounter our native Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus. It’s also becoming a familiar sight in many urban parks and natural areas, as it is an easy-going, carefree native shrub.

In spring it is fairly unassuming with its small, round-to-oval green leaves and sometimes rather twiggy stature. But it catches more attention when it flowers: Though the blossoms are tiny (less than a half-inch) pinkish-white tubes, they are abundant enough during their long bloom period of late spring to late summer to catch the eye of passers-by and hummingbirds alike. But it is in autumn when the plant’s namesake is realized: the stems are covered with stark white berries that persist after leaf drop and make for an especially interesting and attractive shrub in the winter garden.

Birds are attracted to the berries, but it is also true that the Snowberry’s fruit is not their first favorite choice — so that means the shrub can be an attractive feature in the garden through the winter and also then available food for birds in the leaner times of late winter.

Symphoricarpos albus: Common Snowberry

Snowberry can grow in sun or part shade, in moist, dry, even poor soils. Planted on a slope, it can help prevent erosion, spreading by thick underground rhizomes. Grows 2-4’ x 2-4’.

Symphoricarpos mollis var. hesperius: Creeping Snowberry

There are also native creeping snowberries; the main one west of the Cascades is S. mollis var. hesperius — often used synonymously with S. mollis. Grows 1-2’ tall x 2-5’ wide – Sun to shade but may be more drought tolerant in shadier areas.

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