Lots of plants have pretty flowers or showy berries, are drought tolerant, handle clay soil, take full sun or part shade, or tolerate deer browsing on them. But how many plants have all these qualities? Coralberries are clear winners when it comes to choosing plants for our gardens. In fact, the only drawback comes when we try to pronounce their scientific name: Symphoricarpos orbiculatus!
If you’re into plants, you might recognize the genus. Symphoricarpos also includes Snowberries, S. albus, and the plants are fairly similar.
As you might guess, coralberries have clumps of showy berries clustered around the plants’ stems, and they’re a beautiful, medium pink in color—often sort of a coral pink, in fact. (With hybrids, berry color ranges from the amethyst pink shown here to a dark rose red.) The berries mature in the fall, but hang around all winter, adding color to an otherwise drab season. They replace pretty white bell-shaped flowers that appear in mid-summer. With their arching branches and blue-green leaves, these plants look good no matter what the season.
Coralberry is native to the eastern US, which gives a clue about their cultural needs. They’re hardy in USDA zones 2 through 7, just right for our Colorado gardens. The shrubs tolerate clay and drought, although ideally they’ll be planted in amended, well-drained soil with some irrigation.
These are relatively small shrubs, growing two to five feet high, and spreading from four to eight feet across. Their roots can form runners, increasing the size of the planting. Suckering produces dense thickets, offering ideal cover for small birds. Birds enjoy the berries as well, so coralberries contribute both room and board to the garden!
For best effect, allow the shrubs to naturalize in the dappled sunlight under deciduous trees. Their tenacious roots will hold a slope in place, providing erosion control. Finally, they can be used as an informal hedge, but shearing ruins their lovely fountain shape. Besides, you wouldn’t want to cut off all the berries!
Plants such as this make me wish I had a larger yard, so I could include every worthwhile species. Happily, we can all enjoy them at the Denver Botanic Garden, where the photos were taken.