Do you grow Sparkleberry? Thimbleberry?

by How Does Your Garden Grow? By Sharon Daniels

You know Blackberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, but what about Sparkleberry, Thimbleberry and Chokeberry? They and others mentioned here may be shrubs, wildflowers or trees.

The amethyst-colored fruits of Beautyberry (Callicarpa) follow small lilac flowers in summer and persist into winter. This shrub grows up to six feet tall.

In the spring following our devastating December 2009 winter, I believed mine had been killed but was surprised when new foliage showed from the roots. If this plant freezes to the ground, it returns from roots so it can safely be cut to the ground in spring.

Soapberry (Sapindus) is not found locally as it is native to south-central United States. Its tiny yellowish flowers turn to orange-yellow fruits which turn black in winter. So why is it called Soapberry? Its fruit pulp has surfactant properties and has been used by Native Americans and others for washing and as a dyeing agent.

It’s easy enough to guess why Snowberry (Symphoricarpos) is so named, as this deciduous native shrub’s pink flowers produce white fruit from late summer to winter. As a shrub it grows up to six feet tall but a creeping form stays low and has smaller fruit.

Thimbleberry (Rosa occidentalis) is classified as a wildflower which you may know as it is a common Black Raspberry, with purple-black fruit. Be cautious as this plant is protected by small, hooked prickles.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) makes a good ground cover on a shady bank. This creeping evergreen plant is native to much of eastern North America. Paired white flowers (hence its other name, Twinberry) appear in late spring or early summer, and bright red berries follow

One you likely know is Serviceberry (Amelanchier). White or pinkish early spring flowers are followed by edible blueberry-flavored fruits in early summer. I am told they make good pies, but birds may beat you to the tasty fruits of this tree we Appalachians often call “Sarvis.”

I learned it has another common name when VDOT installed a road sign near my home. When I asked what Juneberry means, I was told it’s the same as ServicebeiTy.

The widespread genus Vaccinium features cranberry, blueberry, bilberry, lingonberry and huckleberry shrubs. The name possibly is derived from the Latin bacca or berry. Sparkleberry (V. arboreum) is a woodland shrub or tree native to the southeastern U.S., usually no more than 10 feet tall. Fragrant, delicate white flowers hang in drooping bell-like clusters which produce black berries.

Cedar waxwings and other birds are attracted to native Chokeberry (Aronia) when bright red berries appear in late summer to winter. Its colorful fall leaves are reminiscent of burning bush, though it tends to spread by suckering.

Sharon Daniels is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteer.