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Spend any time outside the city on either side of the Cascades, and you will probably encounter the common native Snowberry, Symphoricarpos alba. For that matter, time spent in some urban parks and natural areas would also find you in the company of this easy-going, carefree native shrub.
In spring or summer, you might pass it by unseeing – it is fairly modest with its small, round to oval green leaves and sometimes rather twiggy stature. It catches more attention when it breaks into flower; though the blossoms, in Honeysuckle like pairs, are diminutive, they are abundant when in full bloom, and are rather sweetly eye-catching.
You might also notice when walking past the unassuming Snowberry that there is sometimes quite a flurry of bird activity within the delicate screen of leaves; because of its tangle of twiggy branches, it makes a good sheltering spot for small birds, and for that a valuable plant for the gardener wanting to attract birds to the garden.
The other bird-attracting feature, and likewise this plant’s most attention-getting time of year is when the namesake white berries make their appearance. Starting in the fall when they appear amongst the leaves, the shrub really takes center stage after leaf-drop, when the stems are festooned with the white pearls throughout the winter. Birds are attracted to the berries, it’s true, 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 food available for the birds in the leaner times of late winter.
(Be aware that there is a minor toxicity to humans associated with Symphoricarpos berries –not considered dangerous or deadly, but can cause degrees of stomach upset, so not for snacking by humans)
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Family: Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle)
Common Name: Snowberry
Native Range: Forests, shrub thickets, edges and open slopes from sea level to mid-mountain, both sides of the Cascades.
Characteristics: Abundantly branching, deciduous, low twiggy shrubs. Leaves are small and opposite along stem; small pinkish-white flowers are in honeysuckle-like pairs, followed by distinctive white berries that persist through the winter.
A good plant for attracting birds to the garden.
Culture: Tolerant of dry to moist, shade to sun conditions.
Pests/Diseases: Powdery mildew can often be an issue, but good air circulation and avoiding overhead watering can take care of much of the problem.