By Jake Landers
Published February 2011
Coralberry is an attractive vine with bright red berries that I usually use in Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations, when I get around to it, and when it’s been a good berry producing year. Often the vines on fences and in thickets provide only bright green leaves and no berries for decorations, but some years the berries put on quite a show.
Many years ago on the ranch I would bring in a colorful strand which Mom would use to decorate the fireplace mantle or the dining room dinner table. It was my job in those days to wander along the field fence and in the high-fenced Turkey Trap to look for unfamiliar plants, fancy rocks, arrowheads, wild animals, or just about anything. Buffalo gourds and Milkweed pods were occasionally brought in and usually rejected for decorations. But the red berries were well received.
When we arrived in San Angelo some years ago we bought a house that had been built on a recently vacated Mesquite pasture, the lot subsequently on Briargrove Lane south of Loop 306. Some native plants besides Coralberry had survived the construction on the lot including Deer apples, Angel’s trumpets, Wild morning glory, and many weeds and grasses. I let the Coralberry continue to grow in a flower bed against the garage, hoping that I could grow my own decorations in a year or two. After 30 years, however, I gave up trying to grow berries, cleaned out the bed, and sprayed the sprouts with Round-up. Feeble attempts to control it several years earlier seemed to make it grow better, but no berries.
I have no idea how often it reproduces by seed. Seeds are probably important for establishment in Nature passing unharmed through a bird that eats the berries. It never produced seedlings in my flower bed, and there were plentiful sprouts from the roots, always. I discovered it had storage roots slightly smaller than a pencil often growing horizontally with smaller roots going deeper. Sprouts grew upward at short intervals bearing heart shaped leaves.
Seeds of Coralberry are shaped like a snail about the size of a BB. If you squeeze a berry the white seed is clearly snail-like. Another common name is Snailseed. The scientific name is Cocculus occidentalis, with the first word from Latin meaning coiled like a snail, and the second because it was first discovered in the east.
Reading The Landscape
What has happened to this tree along the highway in Menard County, Texas? Click here for my answer.
The only place I’ve seen Coralberry with abundant berries this year is on the chain-link fence of the Menard Manor in Menard, Texas. It was completely covering the shaded fence at the west entrance probably having been growing there since the fence was built in the early 1970’s. Berries lasted uneaten until late December this year becoming very apparent as the leaves fell from the vines. The resident Mockingbirds have been slow in feasting on berries and spreading the seeds to other favorable spots.
This remarkable Live oak tree was blown over some years ago with half its roots exposed, but it has continued to live and send up sprouts from the upturned roots with very light, if any, browsing by goats in this pasture. —JL