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Symphoricarpos Occidentalis Descriptive Essay

Also known as: Western SnowberryGenus:SymphoricarposFamily:Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle)Life cycle:perennial woodyOrigin:nativeHabitat:part shade, sun; dry to average moisture; open prairie, meadows, open woods, thickets, hillsides, ravines, river valleys, along railroadsBloom season:June - AugustPlant height:1 to 4 feetWetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: UPL NCNE: FACUMN county distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution (click map to enlarge):


Short, tight spikes of 6 to 20 stalkless flowers at branch tips and arising from leaf axils near the branch tips. Flowers are pale pink to nearly white, bell to funnel-shaped, ¼ to 1/3 inch long, hairy on the inner surface especially inside the tube, and with 5 spreading lobes that are about as long as or longer than the tube. Projecting well beyond the tube are 5 long, white stamens and a long, white style with a dome-shaped greenish stigma at the tip. The style is often covered in long, spreading hairs except near the tip. At the base of the flower is a light green, hairless ovary.

Leaves and stems:

Leaves are opposite, somewhat leathery, 1 to 3 inches long, ¾ to 2 inches wide, oval-elliptic to egg-shaped, blunt to rounded at the tip, rounded at the base, on a short, finely hairy stalk. Edges are toothless or sometimes with a few shallow lobes or large, rounded teeth. The upper surface is hairless, dark green to blue-green, the lower paler and usually with short, stiff hairs especially along the veins. Twigs are green or reddish brown, finely hairy when young becoming hairless. Older bark is thin and gray and often splits, revealing a red-brown underlayer. Stems are erect, few to many-branched, single or multple from the base and may reach up to ¾ inch diameter near the base. Plants sucker from creeping rhizomes, forming colonies.


Fruit is a dull, greenish-white, round berry ¼ to 1/3 inch in diameter that may persist through winter, eventually turning blackish-brown and a bit crusty. Inside each fruit are 2 nutlets.


Wolfberry is a common shrub, found in a range of habitats from open grasslands to Jack pine forest to rock outcrops to river banks and lake shores. It is one of two native Symphoricarpos species in Minnesota, the other being Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), which has short-stalked flowers with lobes that are not spreading and the style is hidden, not extending (much) beyond the floral tube, where Wolfberry has stalkless flowers with widely spreading lobes and the style extends well beyond the floral tube. A third species, Coralberry (S. orbiculatus), a more southern species not considered native to Minnesota, has yellowish-green flowers and red-purple fruit.

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Polk and Pope counties, and in North Dakota.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Symphoricarpos occidentalis
Western Snowberry


General - erect, much-branched shrub, up to 1 m tall; young twigs pale green to light red-brown; older bark grey-brown, shredding; readily produces suckers to form dense thickets.

Leaves - simple, opposite, oblong, 3 - 6 cm long, thick, grey-green, paler below; edges smooth, wavy-toothed or occasionally lobed.

Flowers - in small clusters at branch tips or in leaf axils; pinkish white, urn-shaped, 4-10 mmlong, white-hairy inside; tamens usually protrude from flower; style hairy, 4-5 mm long; appearing late June to August.

Fruit - greenish white, berry-like drupes, 6-10 mm long, in dense clusters, turn purple inautumn, often last through inter, believed poisonous.


Dry open woodland, river valleys, hillsides, ravines and over-grazed prairie;widespread across boreal region, north and west to southern N.W.T. and eastern B.C.

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