Symphoricarpos albus var. laevigatus

J.G. took today's Botany Photo of the Day at the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and then posted the image in our Flickr Pool late last month. As always, our thanks go to J.G. for his consistently breathtaking photos. (Original Image)

A member of the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae), Symphoricarpos—which is most commonly known as snowberry—counts about 15 low-branching deciduous shrub species among its ranks. All but one are native to the New World (in this case North and Central America); the single exception, S. sinensis, is, as its name intimates, a native of China. Symphoricarpos species generally bear lobed and rounded green leaves that can grow to 5 cm. in length. Additionally, plants put forth variously arranged dense clusters of nectar-rich, bell-shaped flowers that range from white and pink to green in colour. Lastly, species produce the type of conspicuous—though to humans (mostly) poisonous—waxy, berry-type fruits rendered so beautifully in today's photo. That the fruits are borne in clusters explains the genus’s name: (from the Greek) symphoreo = to bear together + karpos = fruit.

Symphoricarpos albus var. albus is native to most North America, primarily east of the Rocky Mountains, while the variety laevigatus, which is featured in today's image, is native to the Pacific slope (i.e., west of the Rockies), where it thrives in the under-story of coniferous forests, particularly in the shaded conditions associated with forest boundaries. Both varieties are rhizomatous—and thus spreading—and tolerant of soil conditions ranging from moist river terraces to rocky slopes and hillsides. Though the berries are somewhat unfriendly to human bodies if ingested (in some cases inducing vomiting, dizziness, or worse), they serve as an important source of sustenance to a number of large forest animals and birds (quail, grouse), and these last operate as the species' primary means of propagation.

Symphoricarpos albus has a history of cultivation in Europe that extends at least as far back as the initial years of the 19th century. Both the eastern and western varieties are known as the common snowberry. Symphoricarpos albus var. laevigatus (laevigatus = smooth—referring to the relative paucity of hairs on the stems and leaf undersides of these plants) can grow to about 2 metres in height, which is somewhat larger than its eastern counterpart. Both varieties are common garden ornamentals.

Symphoricarpus albus var. laevigatus

12 responses to “Symphoricarpos albus var. laevigatus”

  1. Meg Bernstein

    I love these high contrast photos. You can see so much of the detail.

  2. Eva Kashket

    I start every day by looking at the Botany Photo of the Day and the Astronomy Picture of the Day. They are wonderful! Thank you. I just wanted to let you know how much you are appreciated.

  3. Quin

    while causing gastric distress they stil have a fun tactile sensation for kids and others – the mature fruits are fun to mooosh!

  4. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    Yes, I remember long ago how much we enjoyed mooshing these white berries. And also, the skin of the berry has a nice texture, and sometimes we just carried them around in our hands. I didn’t realize they were poisonous — I’m glad I didn’t try eating them! As children, we were quite cautious about eating berries and plants; perhaps a result of successful indoctrination by adults about the dangers of eating anything not already clearly sanctioned as ‘food’.

  5. Margaret-Rae Davis

    What a lovely photo. I learn so much from the wrtie-up and enjoy all the information,
    Thank you,

  6. Old Ari

    The edible Snowberry is obviously not related!

  7. deanna

    I am amazed at the variety and beauty of our plants. I also would like to know where Eva gets the Astronomy photo of the day.

  8. Allan

    Deana There is an Astronomy Picture of the Day site at

  9. Carol Ross

    We used to have snowberries growing at the edges of the woods when I was a kid, but a guy my mom hired to remove poison ivy and other undesirable brush killed them all. I have looked for them for years and have found a few touted as snowberries (one was actually pink-berried) but have never seen that glorious variety we had for sale anywhere. It is amazing to me that a shrub that is so pest free, easy to grow, and beautiful in all of its stages, from mere foliage to fruiting, is not sold for landscaping here in Pennsylvania.

  10. kathy

    this looks a lot like magnolia tree flower…is it related

  11. Eleanor Ryan

    The Snowberry is an important host plant for Chalcedona Checkerspot –Euphydryas chalcedona in the Pacific Northwest. Its caterpillars require this plant for their development. Perhaps the chemical which makes people sick is a benefit as protection for the caterpillar/butterfly.

  12. Vera Moore

    I have a question though….can you tell me how to identify S. albus from S. albus var. laevigatus from the Western Snowberry S. occidentalis? What are the characteristics that sent them apart?
    It grows all over our area here in Eastern WA. Specifically we are in the Palouse region south of Spokane and our annual precipitation is an average 17″.

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