Snowberry: the Poison Berry

The unique snowberry,  often called the waxberry, Ice Apple or ghostberry, is a fruit native to North and Central America. These 1-2 cm berries are soft, ranging from white to pinkish red in color (one species, however, is purple).  Inside, the flesh of this fruit looks just like  sparkling, fine snow.

Soft, white, conspicuous snowberries–unfortunately they’re poisonous.

Snowberry shrubs are considered good dwelling places for animals; for example, birds can easily make nests in the branches.  Snowberries are an important food source for pheasants, quails, and grouse in the wintertime, and for mammals such as bears.  Snowberry bush stems are food for mice and rabbits as well as deer and elk which feed on its vegetation.  Various insects such as types of butterflies and moths eat from its leaves.

Though these conspicuous berries can be ingested by numerous animals, unfortunately they are toxic to humans.  If they are eaten, the person will probably feel dizziness and vomiting.  These berries, when smashed into water, foam up.  Strangely, however, Native Americans used the snowberry to settle the stomach after meals, and to kill fish in streams.

The snowberry bush is quite attractive.  In the spring, or perhaps the summer, sunlight shines through the round green leaves, speckled with white and pink berries.  Many berries stay on the bush during winter, and provide animals with food in case its scarce.  Otherwise, they drop to the ground.  Seeds are spread by birds to regrow into more bushes.

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