Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus): Uses, How To Grow and Care

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The Coralberry is one of those plants you’ve probably seen out in the countryside but never thought of as an ornamental for your yard. This easy to grow native shrub adds a splash of vibrant color to the winter garden when so many other plants look dull and dormant. 

What Is A Coralberry?

The coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) is one of the native plants of the Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle) family. This plant has many common names, including waxberry, buckleberry, snowberry, snapberry, wolfberry, turkey bush, round snowberry, Indian currant, buckbrush, and devil’s shoestring. 

And, because this deciduous shrub has been grown since 1727, there are now several cultivars, some compact, some with variegated foliage.

The coral berry is a small, mound-shaped shrub with brown to purple branchlets that are covered in fine hairs. While this species might grow to 5ft (1.5m) tall and 8ft (2.4m) across, they usually stay much smaller.

The Coral berry plant is recognized as the Christmas berry since it produces bright red berries that persist long into the holiday season.

This plant is native to the central and eastern United States from Texas in the south and South Dakota and New York state in the north. Coralberry is also found in parts of Canada and Mexico.

In nature, these plants can be found growing in woodlands, thickets, and along watercourses.

This shrub has oppositely arranged, simple leaves that can be about 2 inches (5cm) long, but are often found to be much smaller. These leaves have entire (smooth) margins that are rolled and are a dark green color with paler undersides. 



The flowers of the coralberry are definitely not its most colorful feature. In fact, the small, greenish-white to pink flowers are pretty unremarkable. 

These bell-shaped flowers have four or five petals and bloom in the early spring to late summer months. 

It is the fruits of this plant that are showy, ripening in the fall and persisting right through the winter months. These drupes are up to about ¼ inch (6.3mm) across and coral pink to reddish-purple, giving the plant its common name. 

This plant is ideal for someone searching for a shrub with winter interest when the majority of the blooms and leaves have faded.

How to grow coralberry

The coral berry can be grown from seed, but it is much more easily grown from semi-hardwood cuttings as the seeds require long periods of stratification before becoming fertile. 

If you want to grow this plant from seed specifically, it is important to understand that fresh seeds will not germinate if planted. Seeds must be subjected to warm and then cold conditions to break dormancy, a process that takes at least 8 months and simulates a summer to winter period. (1)  

The easiest way to get new coralberry plants is to take advantage of this plant’s habit of spreading by runners. These plants send out runners (rhizomes and stolons), and new plants will root several feet away but are still attached to the parent plant.  

This attachment can be cut and the new plant replanted in a new location. It is best to transplant these young clones in the cooler months leading up to winter.

This shrub can be grown in a variety of soil types, including quite stony substrates, but requires a neutral pH. Plant your coralberry in moist, well-drained, and nutrient-rich soil for the best results. 

Moreover, coralberry plants grow on clay and loam soils found in the woodlands’ understory or shady areas.

These plants have low to medium water requirements and can be grown in full to partial sun but will tolerate even full shade. Additionally, avoid direct sunlight in the afternoon. Being cold-tolerant to about -40°F (-40°C), locations within USDA Hardiness zones 3-7 are best suited to growing this plant. (2)

Coralberry Care and Maintenance Guide

Growing Conditions Coralberry

The coralberry plant does not require frequent pruning but can be cut back to your desired height when necessary. This will probably only need to be done every few years. 

Prune this shrub after it has flowered but be aware that this will of course reduce the number of pink berries it produces. Remove the underground stems (rhizomes) if spreading is not desired.

Thin and leggy specimens can be cut down to the ground to regrow with a denser growth form. This does sound a little drastic but it will also increase your plant’s berry production so it is a win-win all around. 

The coralberry bush has a habit of spreading and you are advised to remove the suckers if you want to prevent this. (3)

If grown in good, nutrient-rich soil, fertilizing this plant is not strictly necessary. In poorer soils, providing liquid or granular fertilizer to young, growing plants will increase their growth rate and berry production, provided you follow the usage instructions of the product. Keep an eye on soil moisture and water anytime it begins to dry out.

Keep in mind that even after producing flowers, plants that are overheated will not produce berries.

Coralberry shrubs are usually pretty pest and disease-resistant. Some sources cite this species as deer resistant but if these animals have access to your yard and you don’t want to share your greenery, you should consider protecting this plant somehow to be on the safe side. 

If there are rabbits around, you may also need to keep an eye out for damage to your plants and protect them accordingly.   


Horticultural Uses

The coralberry is a great shrub for a native woodland garden, where it will do well if grown under trees. Other uses include as a foundation plant and along shaded borders. Because of its spreading habit, it can be used for erosion control.

Human Uses

As tasty as the fruits of this plant may look, they should not be eaten as they are considered mildly poisonous. 

Wildlife Uses

Despite being only somewhat deer resistant, this plant is a favorite of animals, attracting small mammals, ground birds, and browsers such as white tailed deer, which utilize it for food, cover, and nesting sites. Birds enjoy the buds and berries of this plant, while a number of insect pollinators will visit the flowers. (4)


Can you eat coralberry?

The berries of this plant are regarded as mildly toxic/poisonous. It is said that you’d have to eat rather a lot of them for ill-effect but I would suggest staying on the safe side and rather admiring this plant for its attractive fruits and not snacking on them.

Are coralberries invasive?

The coralberry is native to the United States and is not considered to be an invasive species there.

How do you prune a coralberry?

Coralberry shrubs don’t need to be pruned too often. Prune these plants after flowering to maintain them at your preferred height. Hard pruning can be done to leggy specimens to create a fuller plant that produces more berries.

How do you propagate coral berries?

Coral berries (Symphoricarpos) can be propagated through semi-hardwood cuttings taken in late spring or early summer. Remove lower leaves, plant the cuttings in well-draining soil, and maintain consistent moisture until roots develop.

How tall do coral berries get?

Coral berries (Symphoricarpos) typically grow to a height of 3 to 5 feet, although specific heights can vary depending on the cultivar and growing conditions. Some varieties may reach up to 8 feet in height.


The coralberry bush may not be an evergreen, but its abundant pink to purple berries definitely brighten up the winter landscape, particularly in the harsh cold winters of the lower USDA hardiness zones. Plant this shrub for its low maintenance needs and attractiveness to native wildlife.

For more common bushes to grow, check this list of popular shrubs and bushes.


References list

(1) Hidayati, S. N., Baskin, C. & Baskin, J. M.  Dormancy-Breaking and Germination Requirements for Seeds of Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Caprifoliaceae)

(2) Lonnee, D., Rose, N., Selinger, D. & Whitman, J. Growing shrubs and small trees in cold climates. 2011

(3) North Carolina Extension Gardener. Symphoricarpos orbiculatus.

(4) Sallee, M. Don’t Trip On The Devil’s Shoestring. Native Plant Society Of Texas


*photo by YAYImages/depositphotos

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