Thursday, December 4, 2008

Snowberry Livens our Bleak Winter Landscape

Little little pearl-colored berries with the texture of popcorn are decorating the roadways of Lewis County this December.

It is funny how time passes and we don’t notice things and then suddenly that which has gone undetected demands attention. After years of years of professing to be a “naturalist” one of this continents most prolific plants recently forced me learn a little more.

There is no way that you can travel Highway 505 east of Winlock this winter and not notice the Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) that has erupted into popcorn-like berries along the side of the right-of-way. In reality, the plant is native to just about all North American locations north of 41 degrees latitude.

On their way west in 1805, Lewis & Clark documented what is now known as Common Snowberry near Lolo Pass on the Idaho/Montana border.

Now in December, the plants are bare except for the small kernel-like berries that are light and fluffy to the touch. Along roadsides and near stream banks, displays of Snowberry dominate the landscape like the blooms of the Pearly Everlasting along mountain roads in the fall. It is difficult to remember that these berries started out as small, pink fruits in the spring before they become the egg-white obsession they are in December.

Native Americans had a love-hate relationship with the berry due to its minimal qualities. Some nations referred to it as “corpse berry” or “snake’s berry” as it can be toxic, especially to small children. On the other hand, a couple of berries after a “fatty” meal was known to settle the stomach. The berries can cause vomiting and dizziness and when smashed in water they exude a soapy foam (although my December experiment of the same did not produce those results).

Deer eat the leaves while many small birds nest under the plants. The berries and stems can be important forage for birds, quail, grouse, and bears. Snowberry stems provide food for rabbits and mice.

Common snowberry spreads mainly by vegetative means through sprouting. It show survival grit by reproducing with rhizomes, by seed and resprouts after fire or cutting and it is a common garden plant.

White coralberry and waxberry , otherwise known as Common Snowberry provide us a little brightness in our gloomy Northwest winter, but for this backyard naturalist, it provided the incentive to learn a little more.

1 comment:

Mossymom said...

snowberries are pretty. I don't like your font color and background. I find it hard to read.

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