Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Almost nothing good to say about the 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.

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.

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."

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 photographed last week.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Say, what nice photos! I confess my fondness for snowberries began when I was a boy. I rather enjoyed tossing them about and the sound of their cruch on the ground. Always a sign of the changing seasons and memories of the many interesting plants about me as I was growing up. Three cheers for the snowberry! Walt in the Finger Lakes of NY

Tim Entwisle said...

I'm pleased to hear that Walt. As you have shown, whether a plant is interesting or even 'beautiful' can depend so much on the stories associated with it - scientific, first time encountered (I love Peppercorn Trees because they bring back strong memories of childhood), who planted the shrub, other changes associated with its flowering/fruiting, and so on. I might even grow to love the snowberry!