Symphoricarpos albus – Snowberry

At a Glance:

  • Family: Caprifoliaceae
  • Plant Type:  Deciduous erect shrub
  • Distribution: Widespread across most of North America
  • Habitat: Thickets and open slopes at low to mid-elevations
  • Height:  up to 6 feet tall
  • Flower/Fruits:  small clusters of pink/white flowers. Named for the white round “berries” that develop and remain on the stem into the winter.
  • Flowering Season: May-August
  • Leaves: leaves opposite. Leaf shape varies drastically for this plant – look for a bunch of different shapes! Generally elliptic/ovate, but can be deeply lobed. Sometimes with a smooth margin or toothed edges. Green with a lighter green underside.
  • Generation: Perennial
  • Notable feature: One of the few shrubs in the PNW that are oppositely arranged.

Restoration and Conservation

Snowberry is a valuable plant to many types of animals in the Pacific Northwest. As a flower, the nectar is a useful food source to many bees, insects, and pollinators, including the Anna’s and rufous hummingbirds. The berries, which last into the winter, are eaten by birds like towhees, thrushes, robins, grosbeaks, and waxwings. The thickets and shrubs provide cover for small birds to hide in. Birds aside, the sphinx moth (Sphinx vashti) uses snowberry as it’s only food source in larval stage in the Pacific Northwest.

Ethnobotany

The snowberry shrub has been an important medicinal and household plant to many Naive Americans.  Snowberry contains saponins, a naturally soapy substance useful for treating and cleansing the skin. Snowberry was used to kill body parasites, clean and heal wounds, used as an eye wash for sore eyes, and as a diluted tonic, used as a gentle cleanser for babies and children. The Chehalis Tribe is documented for using the berries to wash hair.

References and Resources

This article was written by Sarah Verlinde-Azofeifa.   For questions regarding the EERC Native Plant Guided Tour, contact Sarah at severlin@uw.edu.