Horticulture Highlight: Symphoricarpos, Snowberry or Coralberry

November 5, 2019

How interesting will our times become? How much more interesting can they become?

            -Mark Jarman

A retired medical school dean would appropriately interject into conversations that hearing any one’s doctor mention, “isn’t that interesting,” should not always be the preface of what one wanted to hear next. “Isn’t that interesting,” is also heard from visitors walking our landscape, during this time of year, when coming upon any of our Symphoricarpos, Snowberry or Coralberry.

It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting.

            -Agatha Christie

These modest-sized, twiggy, deciduous shrubs within the CAPRIFOLIACEAE, the honeysuckle family, are innocuous most of the year. Inconspicuous small opposite leaves, lacking any fall color and easy to miss small clusters of pinkish, 1/8-to-1/4-inch, bell-shaped flowers do not cause these to capture much attention. However, as we come into November, it is the distinctive and persisting, white and magenta fleshy fruits that serve as the most conspicuous ornamental features of these primarily native shrubs.

Of the 15 Symphoricarpos species, only one is indigenous to Asia, the rest are native to North and/or Central America. The etymology of the genus alludes to ancient Greek for fruit (karpos) bearing together (sumphorein). These ½-inch diameter, fleshy, berry-like drupes containing two seeds matured back in September. While offering food for various birds and small animals, the lengthy time these fruits ornamentally persist, for our enjoyment, suggest many birds do not have them on their top ten, or perhaps even top-twenty, bulking-up-list pre-migration.

Interesting,”

someone remarks between bites.

“to be right here in the moment

yet also out there watching

some once-in-a-lifetime sublimity

unfold, as if living as if already

dead.” …

            -William Hathaway

Nonetheless we can mention appropriate, bi-centennial historical notoriety. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) in presidential retirement was adding these plants at Monticello. This enthusiastic botanist often shared his new plant finds with many others and we know he sent cuttings of snowberry to Madame de Tesse (1741-1814), in France, his friend and correspondent of three decades.

There is not a sprig of grass

that shoots uninteresting to me.

-T. Jefferson, Dec. 1790

The greatest service which can be

rendered any country is to add

an useful plant to its culture…

            T. Jefferson, In Memoir

At Mount Auburn we recently added more cultivars of coral berry, some tried (‘Candy Sensation’) and some new for us (‘Proudberry’) which may be found on Spruce Avenue, along with snowberry found elsewhere.

What really dissatisfies in American civilization is the want of the interesting, …

-Mathew Arnold

November sun that latens with our age,

Filching the zest from our young pilgrimage,

Writing old wisdom on our virgin page.

Not the hot ardour of the Summer’s height,

Not the sharp-minted coinage of the Spring

When all was but a delicate delight

And all took wing and all the bells did ring;

Not the spare Winter, clothed in black and white,

Forcing us into fancy’s eremite,

But gliding Time that slid us into gold

Richer and deeper as we grew more old

And saw some meaning in this dying day;

Travelers of the year, who faintly say

How could such beauty walk the common way?

            -Vita Sackville-West

About the Author: Jim Gorman

Visitor Services Assistant View all posts by Jim Gorman →

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.