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How to Grow Sapphireberry — Symplocos

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Symplocos–commonly called sapphireberry–is a large deciduous shrub or small tree that is often grown for its panicles or racemes of yellow or white flowers that appear in spring followed by blue, black, purple, or white berry-like fruits in autumn.

There are about 250 species in the Symplocos genus, but only one, S. paniculata, is generally grown in gardens for its flowers and fruit. It is a showy addition to a shrub border.

Symplocos produces the most autumn berries when several plants are planted together. The berries make a spectacular garden accent.

Symplocos is native to woodlands in North and South America and is also found from East Asia to Australasia.

Get to know Symplocos 

  • Plant type: Evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs 
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 5 to 8 
  • Hardiness:  Hardy to Zone 5
  • Height and width: 10-15 feet (3.1-4.6m) tall with wide-branching diameter equal to its height 
  • Growth rate: Moderate
  • Form and habit: Wide-branching 
  • Foliage: Dark green leaves in early spring 
  • Flowers: 1.5 inch clusters of tiny fuzzy white flowers that are very fragrant 
  • Fruits: Sapphire blue .3 inch .8cm berries, which ripen in late fall 
  • Bloom time: Early spring or summer 
  • Uses: Berries make spectacular garden accent, but short-lived, the back of a shrub border or stand alone, informal hedge or screen 
  • Common name: Sapphireberry, sweetleaf 
  • Botanical name: Symplocos 
  • Family name: Symplocaceae 
  • Origin: Woodlands from East Asia to Australasia and North and South America

Where to plant Symplocos 

  • Plant Symplocos in full sun or light shade.  
  • Plant Symplocos grows best in fertile, acid soil; pH 4.5 to 5.5. 

When to plant Symplocos 

  • Set container-grown Symplocos in the garden in spring or fall.
  • Sow seeds in containers in a cold frame in autumn.

Planting and spacing Symplocos 

  • Space Symplocos 15 feet (5m) apart.
  • Plant more than one Symplocos to ensure better fruiting.  

How to water and feed Symplocos 

  • Give Symplocos regular water. 
  • Feed Symplocos with an all-purpose organic fertilizer in spring, though they grow strong with low-fertilizer. 

How to care for Symplocos 

  • Pruning Symplocos is rarely needed. 

Symplocos pests and diseases 

  • Birds love Symplocos berries and quickly strip them from the branches.  

Symplocos propagation 

  • New Symplocos plants can be started from softwood cuttings of young growth in late spring or early summer, or by forcing a branch to grow roots by the method known as ground layering.  

Symplocos varieties to grow 

  • S. paniculata, Sapphireberry, Asiatic sweetleaf, Sapphireberry, from China, Japan, and the Himalayas, this deciduous species forms a large spreading shrub or small tree at 10-20 feet (3.1-6.1m). The upright branches are covered with gray furrowed bark and finely toothed, somewhat hairy 3 inch (7.6cm) leaves. Fragrant white star-shaped flowers, each with 30 prominent yellow stamens, are borne profusely in late spring to early summer. The bright turquoise berries ripen in early fall and last several weeks before being stripped by birds. Zones 4 to 8.  

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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