Symphoricarpos occidentalis (Wolfberry)

Plant Info
Also known as: Western Snowberry
Family:Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; dry to average moisture; open prairie, meadows, open woods, thickets, hillsides, ravines, river valleys, along railroads
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:1 to 4 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: UPL NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Flower shape: bell Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] 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: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] 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: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] 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.

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More photos

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?

Posted by: Tim - Crow-Hassan Park Reserve
on: 2018-06-27 12:21:39

Restored prairie area near a dirt road.

Posted by: Pam Larson - One Mile Lake Nature Area, Fergus Falls MN
on: 2018-07-23 23:39:47

Many places along the self-guided trail.

Posted by: Mike Tillotson - Elk River
on: 2020-07-09 13:01:07

Some visitors here may be able to help: Observation of specialized insects can provide confidence in identification of many plants. In that vein, probable adult and larval Snowberry Clearwing moths have been seen recently in the newly established William Houlton refuge in Elk River, and a possible adult Vashti Sphinx moth has been observed at the quonset hut light this year. If these amateur field IDs are accurate there are some unusually large Wolfberry shrubs along the old field boundary "firebreak" in that park, not too far from the entrance.

Posted by: Bob - Wisconsin
on: 2021-10-07 05:45:23

Can snowberry and wolfberry be confused with the invasive honeysuckles?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-10-07 13:26:41

Bob, snowberry and wolfberry are in the same family as invasive honeysuckles, so there will be similarities, but the leaves tend to be rounder and proportionately broader than invasive honeysuckles, some leaves even with a few shallow lobes or large rounded teeth, and fruit is white where honeysuckles are red or orange. Flowers are also quite different.

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