coralberry

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 a native deciduous shrub of the Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle) family. This plant has many common names, including waxberry, buckleberry, snowberry, snapberry, wolfberry, turkeybush, round snowberry, Indian currant, buckbrush, and devil’s shoestring. 

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.

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 dull green color with paler undersides. 

Flowers

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 spring to 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. 

How To Grow A 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. 

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

Care and Maintenance

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 berries it produces. 

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. 

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.   

Uses

Horticultural Uses

The coralberry is a great shrub for native woodland gardens, where it will do well if grown under trees. Other uses include as a foundation plant and along shaded borders.

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

Being only moderately deer resistant, this plant is a firm favorite with wildlife and will attract small mammals and a variety of birds. Birds enjoy the buds and berries of this plant, while a number of insect pollinators will visit the flowers. (4)

FAQs

Conclusion

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

References list

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

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51215863_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.

https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/symphoricarpos-orbiculatus/

(4) Sallee, M. Don’t Trip On The Devil’s Shoestring. Native Plant Society Of Texas https://npsot.org/wp/story/2011/1679/

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*photo by YAYImages/depositphotos

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