UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee , FL 34972-2578

E- mail:  dfculbert@ifas.ufl.edu

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August 5, 2004

Feature Article - for release the week of August 15, 2004

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent

Snow in the summer

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” could also be applied to people that complain about the hot humid weather of South Florida.  Well, for those of you that are dreaming of cooler temperatures, picture your bushes with a thick coating of snow.  And then think of all the tropical plants that would not survive a northern winter, such as snow bush.

Snow bush? Yes - snowbush is a tropical plant that is well adapted to our Florida Yards, but will not survive areas with freezing temperatures.  It is named because if gives the appearance of its leaves being covered with that cold white stuff – the green leaves are spotted and splotched with white, and  pink and purple are sometimes blended in for an additional surprise of color.  Since our 4-H Agent Debbie Clements was recently asking me about this plant, and it is gaining in popularity in our local landscapes, it serves a good topic for this week’s horticulture column.

This plant is sometimes called Snow-on-the-Mountain, and is closely related to poinsettia, crotons, and the other members of the Euphorbia plant family.  It is a native to the Pacific Islands.  It is drought tolerant, has minimal needs for fertilizer and, except for wet feet, can handle most kinds of soil conditions.  Although caterpillars and mites may be troublesome pests for Snowbush, this plant is not susceptible to any major diseases.

Snow bush is an upright shrub with small rounded leaves that show a lot of variation in color.  If grown in more shady areas, they are green with white, but if exposed to medium to full sunlight, the darker reds to an almost a purple color may appear with the white and green leaves. New growth comes in with pink colors.

There are tall forms of snowbush that if kept unpruned, can stretch up to 8 feet in height; there is also a smaller-leaved dwarf form that is easily maintained at 2 feet but will only reach a 5 foot height if left unpruned.  The dwarf form has many tightly growing stems, while the taller version has a more open appearance with zig-zag branches. 

Two sizes of snowbush are seen in these 3 gallon pots:     (left) Breynia nivosa; (right) Breynia disticha, the dwarf form.

Note the tightly suckering habit of the Dwarf snowbush

Here is a close-up of the parasol-like flowers of Snowbush. 

 All photos: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

As the shrub grows taller, long stems start to droop over; for the best appearance these can be pruned back. The larger snow bush plants can be planted 3 to 6 feet apart, and make a fairly attractive screening hedge. I have seen this plant grown as a boxed hedge, but it is not very attractive when made to take this kind of unnatural shape. 

Small parasol-shaped flowers can be seen growing on snowbush in the warmer months.   I’ve not heard about  any seed that are produced by this plant.  Propagation is very easy by division of the suckers or by cuttings. In fact , a neighbor of mine once took the trimmed branches and just stuck them in the ground to form a fairly complete screening hedge.  Since there are some reports of suckering with this plant,  be sure to monitor it for a spreading habit.

There appears to be some differences of opinion as to its botanical names, but all agree that it is from the genus Breynia.  The larger sized forms are most often called B. nivosa, while the dwarf forms are usually labeled as B. disticha.  There are several cultivars named for these species: Hawaiian snowbush and Roseo-picta are the larger sized snowbush variety names, while dwarf, minima, and Key West are mentioned as cultivar names for the smaller forms.

Snowbush is adapted to our area and those in extreme south Florida, but they may need some cold protection in exposed areas.  Up north, it is gaining popularity as a potted plant for indoor use, and the dwarf form can be used as a bonsai specimen.  

If you need additional information on Snowbush, take a look at the additional references on our internet site, http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu or email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu.  Area residents can call us at 863-763-6469 or stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee. You can visit with our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners on Tuesday afternoons from 1 to 5 PM.  


Insect Pest (addendum)

White-tipped black moth.  Photo by: Linda Seals, UF/IFAS Palm Beach County Extension

Snowbush spanworm.  Photo by: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension







Close-up of Snowbush spanworm caterpillar  Photo by: Doug Caldwell, UF/IFAS Collier County Extension

Thanks to an alert Master Gardener in Martin County, I am able to add some specifics on the caterpillar that attacks snowbush.  Linda Seals sent in  a moth photo to our UF/IFAS DDIS system in May, 2005; I submitted another specimen in June 2005.  According to Lyle Buss of the UF/IFAS Insect ID lab, this is the white-tipped black moth,  Melanchroia chephise (Cramer)It is a common and sometimes abundant day flier, found throughout the state and recorded in every month.  Known larval food plants include Malay gooseberry (Phyllanthus acidus),  white sapote (Casimiroa edulis),   snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata). and Snowbush (Breynia sp.)  

The larva is called a snowbush spanworm, and can do a lot of damage on snowbush.  I've found several references to this insect in both Texas and throughout the Caribbean islands.  Doug Caldwell of the Collier County Extension office has assembled a fact sheet on this insect.  He says if you don't enjoy these hungry inchworms & pretty moths, Spinosadtm containing insecticide products would be a narrow spectrum insecticide choice similar to Bacillus thuringiensis based caterpillar killers.  Or you can hope that a parasitic wasp comes along and lays an egg in the worms before they eat all the leaves. 


Dasch, Gloria  Baltimore: photo of snow on bush.

Gilman, E.  Breynia disticha  Gainesville : UF/IFAS Extension service, Fact Sheet FPS-73, October 1999. http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/shrubs/BREDISA.PDF 

Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER)   16 FEB 2004    http://www.hear.org/pier/species/breynia_disticha.htm  Shows a variety of photos of this plant in tropical landscapes. 

http://www.american-farms.com/text_plant_pages/breynia.htm A commercial grower.

http://www.hilozoo.com/plants/PS_snow.htm  Nice close-up photos of snowbush foliage.

Moth References:

http://www.naba.org/chapters/nabast/wtblack.html Several Texas photos of the White-tipped black moth, a pest of snowbush.

http://bugguide.net/node/view/6736  shows several more photos of this moth. 

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