Tim EntwisleAlmost nothing good to say about snowberry

I’d held back blogging on snowberry because I couldn’t think of anything nice to say about it. Mostly it looks to me like bits of polystyrene (bean-bag beans or packing peanuts) stuck on a stick.

Sticky snowberry…as in what’s brown & sticky?

Close up the white bits look squidgy and berry-like, but not a lot more attractive. Although enjoyed by deer, quail, pheasant and other creatures we like to shoot and eat, the berries themselves are a little poisonous to us humans. Luckily they taste like soap, so I’ve read. The rest of the plant is sticky, in the sense of that wonderful kid’s joke: what’s brown and sticky? A stick.

Of course snowberry is deciduous, so for much of the year it does have serviceable green leaves. But the flowers are small and nondescript, so I needn’t bother with them.

Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) fruit

 

The scientific name for the snowberry is Symphoricarpos, which means clumps of berries. The Common Snowberry, the one I struggle to enjoy, is Symphoricarpos albus, in celebration of its bean-bag bean coloured fruits. It’s from the colder parts of North America.

Of the 15 species all but one grow naturally in the northern and central Americas. The one, comes from China. Nowadays the Common Snowberry also does very well for itself spreading through the UK and various other countries where it’s a popular shrub for tough conditions, and occasionally escapes into the countryside. So nothing exciting in the nomenclature or geography.

I now have just a few hours to find something positive about snowberry on Wikipedia before it goes on strike for 24 hours! Ah, ha! This must be it, the secret attraction of the snowberry: “When the white berries are broken open, the fruit inside looks like fine, sparkling granular snow.”

Ah ha! If I squeeze the berries, I’ll see snow..

So if instead of whinging I’d gently squeezed the bean-bag bean I might have enjoyed what sounds like a fine winter experience. That’s tomorrow’s task, find a snowberry in fruit, not in a botanic garden, and give its fruit a squeeze…

Images: these fine specimens were growing beside a motorway in Newcastle, and were photographed last week.

From Talking Plants

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Tim Entwisle

About Tim Entwisle

Dr Tim Entwisle is a scientist and scientific communicator with a broad interest in plants, science and gardens, and Director & Chief Executive of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Previously he was Director of Conservation, Living Collections & Estates at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and prior to that, Director of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens for eight years. Read Tim's full blog at Talking Plants

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