American BeautyberryCallicarpa americana
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Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The American Beautyberry is a remarkable deciduous shrub with the most extraordinary berries in fall. These encircle the stem in rings, and they are glossy and a vibrant shade of violet. They form on new stems, so even if there is some winter injury you still get a good crop. This open, spreading bush can reach about 6 feet tall and wide, or it can be pruned to keep it closer to 3 feet. Grow it at the back of shrub beds, along paths in wooded areas, by water and in every garden of native plants.
Full sun will produce the most berries on the American Beautyberry, but it tolerates partial shade well. Grow it in moist soils, both sands and clays, although established plants have some drought tolerance. It doesn’t have any pests or diseases but it is not deer resistant. To encourage lots of new shoots and berries, prune hard in spring, cutting back to a framework about 2 feet smaller than you want the final bush to be each year.
Most gardeners remember the first time they saw a beautyberry – the violet berries are such an extraordinary color that it seems someone must be playing a trick and has attached them to an innocent bush. But no – they are real, and perhaps the most striking and unique color ever seen on a plant. Clustered along the stems through the summer and into fall they certainly create a dramatic effect, and make a very effective display in any garden. This fascinating native plant from the Southeast is a real show-stopper. It’s a satisfying reminder of the remarkable creativity of Mother Nature, reaching into her paint-box and deciding to make these berries that stunning color. The cardinals, mockingbirds, and bobwhite quails they attract see it as a clear invitation to dinner, and many people plant this bush for its magnetic effect on wildlife. You can plant it for any or all reasons, but plant it for sure, simply because it is an American beauty.
The American Beautyberry is a medium-sized deciduous shrub that grows to around 5 feet tall and wide, and even to 9 feet in ideal conditions. It has an open structure, with slender branches that arch outwards, turning gently upwards as well, making an airy plant, rather than a dense shrub. Older plants develop a framework of stronger branches. The branches have smooth reddish-brown bark, with long, raised, corky areas on them (lenticels for the tissue inside to breath). Older stems are light brown and rougher. The leaves are long and elliptical, with a short, blunt tip and small serrations along the edges. They are up to 9 inches long and carried in pairs or threes along the stems. In fall they turn lime-yellow, before dropping for the winter.
This shrub flowers on new stems, and between June and August will see small clusters of white to pale-pink flowers along the stems, at the base of the leaves. The flowers often attract butterflies. By September the blooms have turned into clusters of ¼ inch berries that often encircle the stems completely. These are green at first, and then turn a remarkable shade of violet-magenta – a show worth waiting for. These last through October, and as the weather cools they begin to attract a whole range of birds, from cardinals to woodpeckers, mockingbirds and bobwhite quails. By winter they will mostly be gone. You can cut branches and remove the leaves for some striking flower arrangements in your home.
Grow this beautiful shrub at the back of beds, behind lower shrubs, to add color and interest for the fall. Plant it in natural areas, around water, under trees and beside paths, where you can see the berries close-up. It is a great addition to any shrub garden, and of course essential for any garden of native trees. Several planted together may produce heavier berry crops. Space plants 3 to 4 feet apart in groups. Try planting it with our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), whose golden yellow flowers in fall will create a striking combination.
The American Beautyberry is hardy in zone 6 and in all warmer zones. In cold areas the branches may be killed back in winter, but this doesn’t prevent flowering, as that is on new stems.
Full sun will give the most blooms and berries, but this plant will still perform well with a few hours of shade each day. The ideal soil is like its native habitats – either sand or clay mixed with lots of organic material. However, it will grow well in most soils, preferring moisture but not soils that are constantly wet. Once established it has some drought resistance, but plants growing in rich soils with plenty of moisture will perform best.
Pests and diseases don’t bother the American Beautyberry, but deer will often eat it if they can. Since it flowers on new stems, encouraging plenty of new growth each year is the key to success. Prune in spring, remove any dead wood, and develop a basic framework of older branches about 2 feet smaller than you want it to be by the end of summer. Cut stems from the previous year back to 1 or 2 inches long – the result will be lots of attractive leafy branches smothered in berries by fall.
There are several different beautyberries found in Asia, but only one, Callicarpa americana, grows in North America. It can be found from Virginia to Arkansas and south to Florida and Texas, usually growing in low-lying areas like swamps, moist woods and along rivers. The berries are sweet and edible, but large quantities can cause upset stomachs. They can be turned into preserves and jellies. Native Americans made medicinal teas from the roots and leaves, and settlers used the fresh, crushed leaves to keep mosquitoes away from their mules and horses.
We can sometimes forget the incredible beauty of our own native plants, when our gardens are filled with plants from around the world. The American Beautyberry will certainly remind us of just exactly how beautiful they can be. Good supplies of this plant are hard to find, and ours is limited. Order now, as these plants will not be around for long.