A spreading, densely twiggy shrub, to 2 m. Shoots reddish, downy; older bark tending to shred. Buds tiny. Leaves ovate, 15–20 mm long, blunt-tipped, dark green above, glaucous and densely pubescent beneath; petiole 2–3 mm, downy. Flowers in short axillary spikes from June to September (in Holland); corolla white or pink, 4–6 mm long, tubular and with the tube about twice as long as the lobes; stamens slightly exserted; nectaries extending all round the base of the corolla. Fruits globose, 5–7 mm wide, often in small congested clusters, white to rose-pink and with a pink, purple or reddish flush on the sunny side, ripening relatively late in autumn. (Bean 1981; Hoffman 2012; Jones 1940).
USDA Hardiness Zone 4
RHS Hardiness Rating H6
This pink-fruited hybrid was sold by Léon Chenault at Orléans, France, by 1912, when a plant was determined by Alfred Rehder at the Arnold Arboretum to be a hybrid between the red-fruited Symphoricarpos orbiculatus from the southern and eastern United States and S. microphyllus, a principally Mexican species with white or pink-flushed fruit. The hybrid gets its hardiness from the American parent but has the smaller and daintier leaves typical of the Mexican. It represents a bridge between the two subgenera into which Symphoricarpos was divided by Jones in 1940 (Jones 1940), since S. microphyllus with its remarkably slender, tubular flowers was considered to belong to the subgenus Anisanthus and S. orbiculatus, with much shorter, bell-shaped flowers, to the subgenus Eusymphoricarpos. Genetic analyses by Charles Bell in 2010 (Bell 2010) failed to uphold Jones’ classification, but did suggest that the parents of S. × chenaultii are quite distantly related within the genus.
The original cross is fertile, and has contributed to the Doorenbos Group of hybrids, while ‘Erect’ and ‘Magic Berry’ (placed here as S. × chenaultii cultivars) originated as back-crosses with S. orbiculatus. The hybrid also tends to naturalise in the UK, and is probably better adapted to an Atlantic climate than is S. orbiculatus itself (under which pink-fruiting naturalised plants are sometimes recorded). In milder parts of England at least, odd branches may hold onto their tiny green leaves through winter, adding to the plant’s generally chaotic and untidy appearance; the new leaves begin to open very early in spring.
Several sports from the original cross have also been raised, and are useful particularly for ground-cover.
This yellow-leaved sport of the older clone ‘Hancock’ was found by Pascal Ouemard in France in 2003 (Dirr 2009) and was patented by EARL Pépinières Defond in 2007; the name means ‘ray of sunshine’. Like its parent, ‘Brain de Soleil’ forms a low dense mat, and Laurence Hatch (Hatch 2021–2022) particularly admires the contrast of the golden foliage – which keeps its colour through the season – with the rich purplish red late-ripening fruit. It is resistant to leaf-spot and mildew, but Hoffman (Hoffman 2012) considers it too delicate a plant for the general ground-cover role which ‘Hancock’ itself is often charged.
Symphoricarpos × chenaultii HANCOCK LOW®
A selection made by Darthuizer Boomkwekerijen in the Netherlands in 2005, resembling ‘Hancock’ in its spreading habit, general good health and rich fruit-colour but making an even lower plant, no more than 50 cm high (Hoffman 2012). Hoffman however comments that, being shorter and less vigorous than ‘Hancock’, it is not as effective at supressing weed growth.
A selection made by P. de Bruin at Boxtel in the Netherlands in the mid 1960s, with longer (25–27 mm) leaves and a spreading habit (Hoffman 2012). It no longer seems to be in commerce, though in the 1990s it was sometimes supplied in error for ‘Erect’ (q.v.) (Hoffman 2012).
Symphoricarpos × doorenbosii 'Erect'
‘Erect’ was raised by Simeon Doorebos around 1948, by back-crossing S. × chenaultii with S. orbiculatus; it makes a compact but upright plant whose reddish-purple fruit is displayed to advantage above the foliage (Hoffman 2012). Hoffman remarks that, due to its origins, ‘Erect’ is sometimes treated as part of the Doorenbos Group, and that the cultivar ‘Elegance’ (q.v.) was sometimes sold as ‘Erect’ in the 1990s.
‘Hancock’ was raised around 1940 by Hancock Nurseries in Ontario, Canada (Hoffman 2012) and has remained a popular selection. It is largely resistant to leaf-spot and mildew and forms a low, dense, bright-green ground-cover plant, even in dense dry shade, which late in autumn is studded with rich purplish-red fruit in small clusters (of about five).
Symphoricarpos × chenaultii HANCOCK CARPET®
Selected by the Kolster nurseries in the Netherlands in 2013, HANCOCK CARPET® is an exceptionally prostrate plant with conspicuously reddish twigs and narrow leaves only 15–25 mm long; it carries its dark reddish-purple fruits very sparingly (Hoffman 2012).
Symphoricarpos × doorenbosii 'Magic Berry'
‘Magic Berry’ was bred by Simeon Doorenbos in Holland around 1948 by back-crossing S. × chenaultii with S. orbiculatus. (Because of its origins it is sometimes treated as part of the Doorenbos Group, but these all have S. albus subsp. laevigatus in their ancestry.) This is a low, compact plant with masses of large (c. 9 mm) reddish-purple fruit which are carried in clusters of four to eight and have made it useful for the cut-flower industry, but it is also a worthy garden plant in its own right; its leaves have a reddish tinge through the season and, in the fairly continental climate of Holland at least, these turn a striking purplish-red in the autumn, like those of S. orbiculatus in its native habitat (Hoffman 2012). ‘Magic Berry’ is a healthy plant, though not quite as tough and vigorous as the smaller-fruited ‘Hancock’ (Hoffman 2012).