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The Snowbush in the Sunny Caribbean: Facts, Care, and Uses

MsDora grew up, received early education and taught school in the Caribbean. Read her love and pride of the region—people and place.

The snowbush was known as old man's beard in my childhood neighborhood.

The snowbush was known as old man's beard in my childhood neighborhood.

Having returned home after living for decades in the United Sates, the sight of white splashes on this tree in the Caribbean reminds me of the snow I left behind.

During my childhood, this plant was called “old man’s beard.” The plants formed most of the hedges between neighboring yards and were quite an attractive sight. They were everywhere and we took their beauty for granted. Presently, most of the villagers have replaced these natural hedges with fences made from brick, wire or zinc. So, every now and then, the little hedge in my yard receives excited, nostalgic recognition from someone in or near my age group.

The reference to the white beard remains in my mind, but especially during the latter part of the year when temperatures begin to cool, I think of snow more readily. Imagine my surprise then, to discover recently that the plant is most commonly known as the “snowbush.”

From a distance, the leaves easily resemble a light snowfall.

From a distance, the leaves easily resemble a light snowfall.

Scientific and Historic Facts on Snowbush

The preferred scientific name is Breynia disticha, and the preferred common name is snowbush. Other English International names include calico plant, dwarf snowbush, dwarf snowflake bonsai, old man’s beard, snowbush breynia, snow-on-the-mountain, summer snow and sweet pea bush.

There are about 35 accepted names of species within the Breynia genus, named in honor of Polish-born Botanist Jacob Breyne (1637-16970), and belongs to the larger group of Angiosperms or Flowering Plants.

The plant is native to the Pacific Islands of New Caledonia and Vanuatu, but has been naturalized in various territories around the world including Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. It is considered an invasive shrub or tree, having the ability to spread quickly from roots in damp soil. It has even been found in areas where no former cultivation is evident, suggesting that it can be spread through seeds carried by birds.

There are reports of the Breynia disticha being present in the Caribbean islands since the early 1900s. According to the January 2017 Report mentioned by CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International), the plant was introduced to Cuba in 1904, Puerto Rico in 1914, Jamaica in 1915, and Haiti in 1917. It is present also in Barbados, Dominica, St.Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines.

On these islands, the snowbush is mainly used as a hedge plant, but in some colder climates, some consider it ornamental and display it in garden pots on porches, in sunrooms and greenhouses. It grows about four feet tall, and develops richer colors in full sunshine. The varieties range from mostly green with white leaves, to leaves more balanced with green white, pink, and red colors.

"New growth is bright pink and matures to red and maroon then light brown and/or dark brown."-Gaston

"New growth is bright pink and matures to red and maroon then light brown and/or dark brown."-Gaston

Care of the Snowbush

My snowbush patch started with four root suckers (new growth from established roots) pulled from the bottom of a tall, thick hedge. Within a week, the plants were standing firm in their new soil and have flourished ever since. My only efforts have been watering and pruning.

The snowbush grows in various soil types, but it prefers consistent moisture. So whether the new plants initiate from seeds, cuttings or root suckers, watering every one to three days is recommended, to prevent the soil from drying out. Being tropical, it also does not like temperatures below 60 degrees. If the leaves turn brown in colder climates, wait for warmer temperatures to prune the damaged leaves.

Full sunlight is required for the snowbush to produce dense growth. Regular pruning helps to shape and thicken the hedge. The plant is not known to succumb to any diseases, but there have been issues with caterpillars and spider mites. Handpick the caterpillars and use horticultural soap for pests.

It is difficult to get rid of the snowbush. The plants will have to be dug out with roots intact.

The snowbush next to the poinsettia looks like winter without the cold.

The snowbush next to the poinsettia looks like winter without the cold.

Uses of the Snowbush

Here's a quick look at some of the many uses for the wonderful snowbush.

Social

Beautification of the surroundings is the primary use of the snowbush. Its pink stem is unique, and the colors make the leaves more attractive than the tiny, insignificant flower which the plant bears. It sparks pleasant conversation on topics like landscaping and the beauty of nature.

Medicinal

A few island natives have informed me that the leaves make good tea to remedy colds and fevers; and a South African tea company supports their claim. The company also advertises snowbush tea leaves which they say have an earthy wild, rosemary flavor.

CABI refers to medical journal articles about the snowbush being used for treatment of headaches and toothaches; for lowering blood glucose; and for having antioxidant, antimicrobial, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. No instructions for making the tea is found.

Environmental

The female moth is equipped to collect and transport pollen between the snowbush flowers. The plants are also suspected of providing caterpillar food. In addition, they make spectacular hedges in botanical gardens.

Conclusion

The snowbush consistently provides us with fresh growth as in the spring, sprinkling activities as in the hot summer, changing colors as in the fall, and snowy white splashes as in the cold winter. In our rendezvous with the snowbush, we can experience the mood of each season.

The consistent warm temperature allows us to spend long periods outdoors, and the consistent beauty of the snowbush gives us good reason. "Snow" as in snowbush bush and "sun" as in sunshine never matched more perfectly than in the Caribbean garden. Life here would be more beautiful if residents restore the snowbush to its former popularity status.

References

  • CABI: Invasive Species Compendium, 20 November 2019
  • Missouri Botannical Garden: Breynia disticha, visited 11/19/2020
  • TropPlants: Breynia disticha (Snow Bush), January 27, 2019
  • University of Hawaii: Campus Plants, Breynia disticha, visited 11/19/2020

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Dora Weithers

Comments

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 25, 2020:

Lora, I think you have a great idea--growing it in a container. Best to you, if you try. It would make a beautiful conversation piece.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 25, 2020:

Flourish, you might like it if you let it grow out. It may also change colors on you. Worth a try. Thanks for sharing.

Lora Hollings on November 24, 2020:

This is a splendid article, Ms Dora, on this beautiful bush which I never heard of before. I don't think they would grow in the desert because of their need for moist soil. But, I could grow them in containers. It would be nice to have a bush that looks like snow has brushed the leaves. That's something that is very rare around here and it would be a welcome sight especially around Christmas time! Thanks for sharing.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 24, 2020:

So that's what I have growing in my yard! I live in a warm weather climate in the American South and there's a plant that just keeps cropping up ("volunteering"). Mine isn't pink-tinged. That photo of the poinsettias and the snowbushes is really quite beautiful.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 24, 2020:

Thanks, Chitrangada. So happy that you and several other readers got to know about a plant that's new to you. You encourage me.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on November 24, 2020:

Excellent information about this unique plant, Snowbush. I liked reading about it, through your well written article. All the details are interesting, and I wasn’t aware of this.

Well written, and informative. Thank you for sharing.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 24, 2020:

Linda, it's amazing how a plant I've known for so long suddenly takes on such significance. Seems like a new part of my brain just opened. Glad that you found the information interesting.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 23, 2020:

The snowbush looks like a lovely plant. It really does look like the leaves have been sprinkled with snow, especially in the first photo. Thank you for sharing the interesting information about the plant, Dora.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 22, 2020:

Jo, they are tropical and not fit for cold climates. Still, some passionate gardeners try to grow them indoors away from the cold.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 22, 2020:

Thanks, Layne. Throughout my childhood, I stared at that beauty every day, but never appreciated the way I do now, having left it and returned.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 22, 2020:

Thanks, James. You do see the beauty. All that's missing is the cold air.

Jo Miller from Tennessee on November 21, 2020:

That's lovely, Dora. Thanks for sharing with us. Do they only grow in tropical climates.

Layne Holmes from Bend, Oregon on November 21, 2020:

I love the spotted leaves, is quite beautiful.

James C Moore from The Great Midwest on November 21, 2020:

I like the visuals, especially the snow brush next to the poinsettias. It looks like frost is covering their leaves.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 21, 2020:

Thanks, Denise. I'm still wondering how you got in your comment, but I'm glad you did. I appreciate you.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on November 21, 2020:

What a beautiful bush. I love the little splash of pink with the white and green. I'm sure it makes lovely hedges. Thanks for sharing.

Blessings,

Denise

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 20, 2020:

Yes, Ann. It will always be the old man's beard, but I also love the snowbush for what the name symbolizes.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 20, 2020:

Thanks, Peggy. I guess that we can't have it all. The plant lends us its beauty, but it also gives us a little extra work to contain it. Not so bad!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 20, 2020:

Bill, hoping you also enjoy your weekend. Thanks for reading. Beautiful plant, but not suitable for cold climates.

Ann Carr from SW England on November 20, 2020:

I identify with this as Old Man's Beard. Looks great in contrast to the poinsetia!

Ann

Ann Carr from SW England on November 20, 2020:

I identify with this as Old Man's Beard. G

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 20, 2020:

What a beautiful bush! Thanks for telling us about the snowbush. It is so pretty with all of those different colors. Too bad it can be invasive.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 20, 2020:

That was interesting! I don't think I've ever seen one or heard of them. We certainly wouldn't have them where I live. Thanks for the informative article, my friend! Have a wonderful weekend!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 20, 2020:

Eric, you would think that a plant with snow in its name would like cold temperatures, but the snowbush prefers warm moisture. You may just have to get a picture. Ha, ha.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 20, 2020:

Thanks, Devika. I'm doing well with gratitude and contentment. Thanks for reading and enjoying the article. The snowbush is truly fascinating.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 20, 2020:

wonderful, it makes me want to get some and I have just the place. But we get into the high 30's here in winter. So I will have to do some investigation.

Thank you Dora

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 20, 2020:

Hi Dora an interesting hub about the snowbush. New to me. I like the snowbush and learned lots from your hub. it grows in specific places and see that it is unique. Informative and fascinating about the snowbush. Hope you well Dora

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 20, 2020:

Thanks, Rosina. You encourage me by saying that you enjoyed the article. Glad you did.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 20, 2020:

Mantita, you know what Caribbean weather is like. I miss the snow but I wouldn't change places with you. Let me look at the snowbush and imagine the sights you see.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 20, 2020:

Thanks, Liz. We experience cooler days come November and December, but we hardly get into the 70s.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 20, 2020:

Thanks, Pamela. The plant is easy to grow and easy to destroy, but what good reason is there to destroy such beauty?

Rosina S Khan on November 20, 2020:

This is an interesting account of the snowbush. I never heard about it until I read this article. I really enjoyed reading about it, and I hope it regains its popularity status in the Caribbean. Thanks for sharing, Dora.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 20, 2020:

Thanks, John. The restoration of snowbush hedges would be great. Wish you had seen them on your visit to Vanuatu.

manatita44 from london on November 20, 2020:

very informative! You're branching out, dear, like modern times. You're evolving. Haha. I love the beautiful magenta alongside - or is it red - reminds me of Autumn. Alas! It's pretty cold here. need some of your snowbush. Peace!

Liz Westwood from UK on November 20, 2020:

This is a very informative and interesting article. I have learnt a lot about the snowbush. Your climate sounds very pleasant, especially as we are heading into the winter in the UK.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 20, 2020:

This snowbush is a very pretty plant, and I like how easy it is to grow. I appreciate all the information you presented in this very intresting article, Ms Dora.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on November 20, 2020:

What a beautiful bush, MsDora. It is interesting to hear it originates from Vanuatu, New Caledonia. I visited there last year, but not for long enough to have noticed any snowbush. It would be nice if more residents on your island restored the popularity of the bushes. Thank you for sharing.