Perhaps you have had your fill of snow already or perhaps the coldest weeks are yet to come. Although the days may be getting imperceptibly longer, the new year usually brings with it the deepest freeze of the season.
Snow though, or no snow, there are still a few plants out there that can bring a bit of pleasure on even the darkest and chillest of days. One such is the ‘Snowberry’ or Symphoricarpos albus as it is more correctly and scientifically known. This small shrub has lovely clusters of waxy white ball like fruits held amongst its bare branches. Like shining pure white marbles or tiny globe lights amongst the twigs, they are quietly satisfying and surprisingly long lasting. Break them open and you will find a snowy sparkling white pulp surrounding the two seeds. Birds do eventually eat them, but as in all the best berrying garden plants, they are far from their favourites and will last a long time on the bare shoots.
This plant spreads slowly by suckering and occasionally by self sown seedlings but can be easily kept in check if need be. Usually though, its spreading habit can be quite an asset as it can be left to happily colonise slightly shady areas beneath trees where it makes for an excellent and trouble free ground cover. It grows to about a metre in height, and although not the showiest plant in the summer garden, is certainly one of the more useful. It thrives in full sun and good soils, but can also fill those marginal spaces with no fuss, providing useful cover for birds and excelling at out competing the weeds.
Its flowers in summer are small, modest and pretty in shades of pink, opening in small clusters at the tips of the branches. These later go on to develop into the groups of pea sized fruits which lighten and brighten the branch tops through from autumn’s leaf fall right through into the new year.
The berries are said to be poisonous, though seldom sampled as we have a natural inbuilt aversion to the look of white fruits. Interestingly, over in their native north america their ghostly whiteness led to their alternative name of ‘Corpse Berries’ and they were believed to provide sustenance to wandering ghosts...