Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' in red flower bud
Skimmia japonica 'Rubella'

Arguably the most popular and attractive of all species and cultivars within the genus Skimmia, Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' is a compact, evergreen shrub noted for its glossy foliage and ornamental flower buds. The original species is native to Japan, China, and Southeast Asia, and is known to have been cultivated at the Royal gardens, Kew as far back as 1838, albeit under its earlier name of Skimmia oblata. It is a dioecious species, meaning that male and female flowers are produced on separate plants.

Botanical illustration of Skimmia japonica female form
Skimmia japonica - female
With the male form being the more compact and ornamental than the female it was the one selected for production. However, it did not obtain any particular attention from 18th century horticulturists as it did not produce the the expected beautiful fruits experienced with Skimmia reevesiana (the original recipient of the 'japonica' species name) until it was introduced from Japan by Scottish botanist Robert Fortune (1812 – 1880) in 1861 to Standish’s nursery in Greater Manchester.

The original species has since produced four cultivars (including Skimmia japonica 'Rubella') which have received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. The 'Rubella' cultivar was introduced to France from China in 1865 by French naturalist Eugène Louis Simon (1848 – 1924) and then on to Britain before the end of the century.

Under favourable conditions you can expect Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' to reach an approximate height and width of 1-1.5 metres. It is a rounded evergreen shrub with glossy, dark-green, leathery leaves. Each leaf is elliptic in shape and up to 10 cm long and aromatic when crushed. It is most noted for is panicles of long-lasting, showy red buds which appear late winter. These open to fragrant, less-showy, creamy-white flowers in the early spring

Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' will perform best on a good neutral to acid soil in a North-facing or West-facing or East-facing position. Dig in plenty of leaf mould or well-rotted manure before planting to help maintain moist conditions. Avoid planting in full sun as this can cause yellowing of the leaves.

This species and its cultivars have proven to be generally trouble free although they can be prone to attack from scale insects, especially if grown under poor conditions. They require little pruning except to remove any untidy or elongated shoots.

Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' works well in the garden when used as an understory plant positioned under deciduous trees. It can also be used to form a low, informal hedge.

HOW TO GROW THE SNOWBERRY - Symphoricarpos albus

HOW TO GROW THE SNOWBERRY - Symphoricarpos albus

Naturalised snowberry growing in a mixed hedge
How to grow the common snowberry - Symphoricarpos albus

The common snowberry - Symphoricarpos albus, is an ornamental fruiting shrub native to both Canada and the northern and western United States. It is a plant valued by Native Americans who used various parts of the plant as a medicine, the crushed berries as soap, and sometimes as a food for livestock (although the berries are poisonous to humans, causing vomiting, bloody urine and delirium!).  The wood of the snowberry was also particularly suitable for making arrow shafts, something that early European colonists would have been only all too aware of! Symphoricarpos albus was introduced to English scientists in 1879.

1918 Botanical illustration of the common snowberry - Symphoricarpos albus
How to grow the common snowberry - Symphoricarpos albus
It is a small, deciduous shrub which under favourable conditions can be expected to reach an approximate height of 3 metres by 2 metres wide, although it has a habit of spreading further by suckers. The broadly ovate leaves are pale to mid-green with a grey caste. The bright pink blooms are small and rather insignificant, appearing from July to September. However it is the pure-white berries for which Symphoricarpos albus is most noted for. These are globose or ovoid, approximately 12 mm across and produced in abundance from September onwards. While the berries are known to contain a number of poisons, they tend to cause vomiting when eaten so the effects of the toxins are rarely encountered.

In its native habitat, is generally found growing on the banks and flats in canyons and near streams below 1200 metres. When planted in gardens it has proven itself to be a surprisingly robust species tolerating most soils and conditions. It will perform well in both well-drained soils and heavy clay and is equally at home in full sun or shade.

Thin out overgrown specimens and remove unwanted suckers between October and February.

Weird fact!

Due to the extreme whiteness of the snowberry berries, they also have the common name of 'Corpse Berry'! So called as some believe that they are a food source for wandering ghosts.

For related articles click onto the following links:
CALLICARPA BODINIERI var. giraldii 'Profusion'
HOW TO GROW THE SNOWBERRY - Symphoricarpos albus