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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at  gardengurumontreal.ca

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Tuesday
Mar022010

Coral Berry; a Shrub That Can Be Confusing

While driving past a newly built apartment building, I was intrigued to see that its small front lawn had been landscaped with shrubs covered in pink berries. This occurrence took place in late summer, when most pink flowers have long begun their dormancy. As many gardeners know, there can never be too much pink in a garden. To see such a vivid, spring-shade of pink flourishing so close to autumn, was a thrill. That prompted some research; I was certain this was a plant that I needed to add to my repertoire of pink plants. In a supplier’s catalog, I found two varieties of Symphoricarpos. In both images, the shrubs sported pink berries.

What I saw on the lawn might have been Symohoricarpos doorenbosii Magic Berry. This plant bears masses of pink-purple berries along graceful arching branches. The variety forms thickets, that are 6 feet high but of indefinite width, due to its suckering nature. That feature makes the shrub suitable for erosion control. Magic Berry is happy in full sun to part shade. It requires moist but well drained soil and is hardy from Zones 3a to 7b.  Caution must be exercised when handling this plant because it causes skin irritation if handled and stomach irritation if the berries are ingested. The garden that displayed the shrub is narrow. Therefore, one can assume that the landscape architect did not use this variety of Coral Berry because it spreads indefinitely. Furthermore, while the picture and text description in the catalogue indicated pink-purple berries, there was not even one on-line image of this plant to confirm that information.

The second choice listed in the catalogue was Symphoricarpos doorenbosii Amethyst. This plant looked like it might be a better match. Both the vividness of the pink color and its superior berry productivity explain why gardeners consider Amethyst more vibrant and showier than other variety of Symphoricarpos. Fruit remains on its branches well past leaf fall. This feature makes it suitable for the cut-flower trade because the berries will cling to the branches for up to three weeks after harvesting. Amethyst is tolerant of any type of soil and grows in sun to part shade in Zones 3 to 7. Like its cousin, Magic Berry, all parts of the plant are poisonous. This very hardy, low maintenance shrub had to be the variety selected by the landscape architect. Further on line research of images confirmed that its pink berries were identical to those that I had seen both in the catalogue and on the lawn.

Nevertheless, I have to wonder, considering that the garden I spotted graces the property of a senior citizen residence, if it was necessary to choose a shrub that is poisonous. On the other hand, was the landscape architect only trying to be the first in town to use this variety effectively? Even though its pink berries are traffic-stopping, now that I know more about Symphoricarpos, I will exercise restraint whenever I am tempted to plant it.

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Reader Comments (1)

I purchased my house 5 years ago, with a huge thicket of the species snowberry in the corner. It is trying to take over the whole garden, and next I suspect, the world. Run like crazy, and very difficult to get out. Eventually (I hope) it will all be removed. The coral berry is much prettier.

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