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Common Snowberry Symphoricarpos albus


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Common Snowberry, flowers
credit: H. Zell/CCSA

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Family: Caprifoliaceae, Honeysuckle view all from this family

Description Symphoricarpos albus is native to North America, where it occurs across much of Canada and the northern United States. It grows in shady and moist mountain and forest habitat, in woodlands and on floodplains and riverbanks. It can grow in a wide variety of habitat types. It is naturalized in parts of Britain, where it has been planted as an ornamental and a cover for game. It is an erect, deciduous shrub, producing a stiff, branching main stem and often several smaller shoots from a rhizome. It can spread and colonize an area to form a dense thicket. It reaches 1–2 m (3.3–6.6 ft) in maximum height. Leaves are oppositely arranged on the spreading branches. They are generally oval, differing in size and shape, and up to 5 cm (2.0 in) long, or slightly larger on the shoots. The inflorescence is a raceme of up to 16 flowers. Each flower has a small, five-toothed calyx of sepals. The bell-shaped, rounded corolla is about 0.5 cm (0.20 in) long and bright pink in color. It has pointed lobes at the mouth and the inside is filled with white hairs. The fruit is a fleshy white berry-like drupe about a centimeter wide which contains two seeds. The plant sometimes reproduces via seed but it is primarily vegetative, reproducing by sprouting from its spreading rhizome. Birds disperse the seeds after they eat the fruit.

This shrub is an important food source for a number of animals, including bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, and grizzly bears. Livestock such as cattle and sheep readily browse it. Many birds and small mammals use it for food and cover. Pocket gophers dig burrows underneath it during the winter.

Native Americans used the plant as a medicine and a soap, and sometimes for food, and the wood was good for arrow shafts.

This shrub is used for erosion control in riparian areas, and it is planted in ecological restoration projects on disturbed sites such as abandoned mines. Its white fruits make it popular as an ornamental plant.

There are two varieties:
S. albus var. albus, native to eastern North America
S. albus var. laevigatus, native to the Pacific coast. It is a larger shrub, up to 2 m (6.6 ft) tall, and with slightly larger fruit. It is treated as a distinct species, Symphoricarpos rivularis, by some botanists.

Warning Berries and stems (often used as whistles) are mildly toxic to children. May be fatal to animals. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.

Habitat Mountains, Canyons & valleys.

Range Eastern Canada, California, Western Canada, Alaska, Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes, Plains, Northwest, Southwest, Southeast, New England, Mid-Atlantic.