Beautiful Beautyberries

The garden should not be complete without some fall color in the form of berries.  Not only are Callicarpa or beautyberry a spectacular addition to our gardens but also a beneficial source of food for the birds.  Stems of beautyberries can be cut and used in bouquets as well.  Consider making some room for these beautiful plants.  After reading this, one can find the perfect variety to fit in any space of the garden.   

            Callicarpa is a group of plants in the mint or deadnettle family.  This plant sets itself apart from others in the family in that it behaves and it produces showy fruits.  The word callicarpa in Greek translates to beautyberry (kallos = beauty and karpos = fruit).  Most species of beautyberry are hardy shrubs found throughout Asia and a few are found growing in the tropics.  Species that we grow in the states are deciduous shrubs producing flowers in summer followed by a showcase of pink, purple or white fruits.

            We are fortunate to have one that grows natively throughout the United States.  American beautyberry is a fast growing shrub with a native range of Maryland south to Florida, stretching west into Texas and northern Mexico.   Most colonies exist in open meadows but a few grow in nearby woodland habitats.  But, the most suited environment for beautyberry is full sun.  American beautyberry reaches maturity around 3 years of age, growing to approximately 5-6 foot tall and wide.  In favorable soils, one can expect an 8-9 foot tall and wide plant.  This deciduous shrub emerges in late spring with clear green leaves producing on upright to almost arching stems.  White flowers are borne in summer followed by a spectacular show of bright purple berries.  The berries are held in tight clusters at every leaf axil.  As you can imagine, birds show up in a frenzy come early fall.  Typically, the native beautyberry has bright purple clusters of fruit.  Over the years, a pink fruited variety known as ‘Welch’s Pink’ and several white fruited forms have been discovered

Callicarpa americana ‘Welch’s Pink’

             Callicarpa dichotoma is native to Asia where it grows in full to part sun.  Reaching maturity at 2-4 feet wide and tall, it’s one that can be placed in a smaller or patio garden.  Soft pink flowers are borne along the leaf axils followed by clusters of purple to violet fruits.  The stems grow in an arching manner offering a unique and tidy appearance. Once frost hits, the leaves fall off and expose the bright fruits which are often consumed by hungry birds.  Purple beautyberry is an easy and manageable plant that needs little or no care once established.

Callicarpa dichotoma
Callicarpa dichotoma

            Though there are a couple of hundred species that one can grow, the last in my article is a species native to Mexico.  Callicarpa acuminata is actually quite hardy to the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Also reaching 5-6 feet tall and wide, it produces red wine colored fruit almost appearing in a much larger cluster.   This certainly is one of the most heat and drought tolerant forms that we’ve grown.  

Callicarpa acuminata ‘Woodlanders’
Callicarpa acuminata ‘Woodlanders’

            Callicarpa produces a chemical in the leaves and when crushed, it gives off an odor that deters mosquitos.   The Depart of Agriculture has formulated and patented the product callicarpenal as a mosquito repellent.  If you grow beautyberry in your gardens, crushing leaves and rubbing them onto your body may prevent bites.  It’s a multi-purpose shrub that is not only attractive, but is functional and easy to grow       

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