You might have noticed that with the arrival of fall that one of our very best Texas native plants has started putting on its best show. American beautyberry, Callicarpa sp, is best known for its fantastic display of fall berries; most often in a stunning shade of purple.
Beautyberry is an excellent native for Houston gardens, as you’ll find it growing wild all over The Woodlands area. This understory shrub is deciduous (meaning it loses its leaves in winter) and produces very small lavender colored flowers in spring, followed by bright purple berries. The berries first appear in late summer and then mature to their full color come early fall. The berries are an important source of food for many birds and are also favored by deer. We have seen a few folks make beautyberry jelly, although we can’t attest to the flavor!
Fully grown, plants will reach about 8-feet tall and just as wide. You’ll want to plant your beautyberry in dappled shade, or morning sun with afternoon shade. It can often be challenge to find color that thrives in shady conditions, so the bright colored berries are a welcome addition to a shady garden.
Plants are adapted to a variety of soils and can even thrive in heavy clay. Beautyberry is an excellent choice for dry shade gardens as plants are very drought tolerant once established. While they do prefer a bit more acidic soil, you can simply fertilize with an acidifying fertilizer in spring and early fall.
There are several different color variations and cultivars available ranging from deep iridescent purple, to burgundy, to lavender and even pearl white. Some of the varieties we currently have include ‘Woodlanders’, which sports beautiful burgundy/purple berries; ‘Wine Spritzer’, a new variety with leaves that are heavily mottled with green and cream on wine-colored stems; ‘Duet Variegated’, which offers high contrast variegated foliage. We also have the native species of both American and Mexican beautyberry. If you’re looking for something specific, feel free to give the garden center a call first to confirm availability.
We recently received a new shipment of Texas natives that you can view HERE.
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- Ask Mr. Smarty Plants
- Callicarpa (Beautyberry)
- Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’
- American Beautyberry
- Callicarpa americana
- Care Of Beautyberry: How To Grow American Beautyberry Shrubs
- Beautyberry Shrub Info
- Care of Beautyberry
- How to Prune a Beautyberry
- Callicarpa americana
- Cultivation and History
- How to Grow
- Growing Tips
- Pruning and Maintenance
- Where to Buy
- Managing Pests and Diseases
- Best Uses
- Quick Reference Growing Guide
- It’s Not FRENCH as Apple Pie
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Tuesday – November 03, 2009
From: Nassau Bay, TX
Title: Propagation of American Beautyberry
Answered by: Nina Hawkins
Hello. I would love to know how to propagate the American Beauty (Texas Location) as I think it is most gorgeous. We lost most of our shrubs/plants in Ike and are replacing them. If I do these from seeds, what is the procedure to follow? Can I just put it in the soil as is, will it root this way?
Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry) is most often propagated by seed but can also be propagated by root cuttings or soft wood tip cuttings. According to How To Grow Native Plants of Texas And The Southwest by Jill Nokes, “American Beauty-berry can be produced by sowing the cleaned seeds lightly in a greenhouse kept just above 40 degrees in November. They will germinate in January and February, and are ready to plant outside under shade by April… Simple cold stratification for 1 month produced adequate germination for one grower.” Softwood tip cuttings should be taken from “early May through June, just after the first flush of growth but before the plant has flowered.” The cuttings should be 4 to 5 inches long with the leaves from the bottom half removed. Treat the cuttings with rooting hormone (5,000 ppm) and place gently in your rooting material. Roots should begin to grow within 1 to 2 weeks. Hardwood cuttings should be 5 to 8 inches long, treated with rooting hormone (10,000 ppm), and placed under intermittent mist. While we don’t think that putting cuttings directly in the ground will work very well, you may successfully separate large clumps of mature plants in the winter.
We wish you the best of luck with your propagation endeavors! Callicarpa americana is a beautiful shrub that does well in many different soil types and whose lovely purple berries attract a variety of birds. It is one of our favorites!
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How to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest: Revised and Updated Edition (2001) Nokes, J. Search More Titles in Bibliography
- By Pat Chadwick
- October 2015 – Vol. 1 No. 10
by Pat Chadwick
In mid-autumn, when the floral display in the ornamental garden is winding down, shrubs and trees that bear colorful fruits and berries keep the show going well into winter. Ilex (holly), Pyracantha, Cotoneaster, Viburnum, and some species of Malus (crabapple) offer reds, oranges, yellows and even blues and blacks to the autumn palette. One plant stands out from the rest with its luminous purple berries. The genus name for this plant, Callicarpa (pronounced kal-lee-KAR-pah), comes from a combination of the Greek words callos (beauty) and carpos (fruit). One look at the colorful berry display and it becomes abundantly clear how this shrub got its common name of beautyberry.
If any plant can provide much appreciated bling in the autumn garden, its beautyberry. It’s a showstopper that never fails to draw lots of admiring glances from passersby. Beautyberry is an ordinary looking shrub in spring and early summer. The simple, opposite, elliptical-shaped leaves are moderately attractive but nothing special. When viewed up close, the flowers are charming but small and not particularly showy. From a distance, they are barely noticeable. However, this plant undergoes an amazing transformation once the berries start to ripen in late summer. Little clusters of greenish-looking, pearl-like berries that grace the entire length of each branch start turning the most extraordinary shades of vibrant purple. Some people describe the color as metallic purple. Others call it rosy pink, bright magenta, violet-purple or even neon violet. To my way of thinking, the color is faintly reminiscent of redbud blossoms in the spring. Regardless of what you call it, the color is stunning.
NATIVE AND NON-NATIVE SPECIES OF BEAUTYBERRY
Beautyberry belongs to a genus of about 140 deciduous or evergreen species, which are mainly tropical and subtropical. According to the Clemson Cooperative Extension’s Publication HGIC 1086, the following four deciduous species of beautyberry are the most commonly cultivated in ornamental gardens throughout the United States:
- Callicarpa americana is native to the southeastern part of the United States (although not specifically native to Albemarle County), where it grows wild in woodland settings from Maryland to Texas. It thrives in USDA gardening zones 7 through 11. It is best described as a loosely branched, deciduous shrub having simple, ovate or elliptical-shaped leaves averaging 6 inches in length. It produces small clusters of lavender-pink flowers in late spring to early summer, followed by violet-color berries in late summer to early fall. The shrub grows about six feet tall and five feet wide. ‘Lactea,’ which is a variation of C. americana, produces white fruit. ‘Welch’s Pink’ produces pink flowers in mid-summer and bright pink fruit in the fall.
Callicarpa Americana (Native Beautyberry)
- C. japonica is from Japan. This species averages six feet in height and width with a rounded habit and arching branches. It bears pink or white flowers and purple fruit. ‘Leucocarpa’ has white fruit.
- C. dichotoma is from China. This species has been cultivated to have greater cold tolerance and is hardy in Zones 5 – 8. It bears pink flowers and bright purple fruit. This graceful, more diminutive variety is a good choice for smaller gardens as it grows four feet tall and wide. Cultivars ‘Issai’ and ‘Early Amethyst,’ which blooms a little earlier than ‘Issai,’ are generally easy to find in local garden centers.
- C. bodinieri is also from China. Like C. dichotoma, this species is also hardy in Zones 5 – 8. Cultivar ‘Profusion’ bears pale pink flowers on arching stems and deep purple fruits in autumn. While most beautyberry species need two shrubs for a good fruit set, this cultivar is self-fertile and does not require a pollinator.
Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Early Amethyst’ (Non-Native Beautyberry)
The question frequently arises about how to tell the difference between the native North American species and the non-native species of beautyberry. The differences basically consist of form, foliage and fruit:
- Form: The native North American beautyberry is larger than the Asian (non-native) species, is more upright, and is slightly taller than wide. The branches on the oriental species are more arching or weeping in form and are generally equally wide and tall.
- Foliage: The leaves on the native North American beautyberry measure three to six inches in length, whereas the smaller, narrower leaves of the non-native species measure one to three inches in length.
- Fruit: The fruit on both species is spaced along the entire length of the branch. However, the fruit on our native North American beautyberry is larger than the fruit on the non-native species and occurs in tightly formed clusters which wrap snugly around the branch. The fruit on the non-native species occurs in loosely formed clusters that are more open in appearance and are borne slightly away from the branch.
Native Beautyberry Fruit Clusters
Non-native Beautyberry Fruit Clusters
USES IN THE LANDSCAPE
Whether you refer to it as Callicarpa or its more common names of French mulberry or beautyberry, this plant is probably not used often enough in the landscape. It is an ideal choice for a shrub or mixed border or even as a loose hedge. As the featured plant in an autumn container garden, beautyberry is stunning when the fruit display is at its peak. Beautyberry will also tolerate moist sites and can be successfully used in rain gardens. While it can be used as a single specimen, you’ll get a better display of fruit if you plant them in groups.
Beautyberry fruits are high in moisture and are an important source of food for many species of birds, including mockingbirds, robins, bobwhite quails, and towhees. Foxes, opossums, raccoons, squirrels, other small rodents, and deer may consume the fruit in the fall after leaf drop. While the berries may last into the winter months, hungry wildlife may strip the berries off in the absence of other suitable food.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
- Cultural Requirements: Beautyberries are long-lived shrubs and ideally should be planted in loose, fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. Once established, they are reasonably drought tolerant. However, under extreme drought conditions, they may drop their leaves and berries in order to compensate for the lack of moisture. Beautyberry does well in either partial shade or in sunny locations but the plant will have a denser habit and will produce more fruit in a sunny location. Give it plenty of room in the landscape. The weight of the berries can cause the branches to bend over, which may either shade or crowd other nearby plantings.
- Propagation: Beautyberry can be easily grown from seed. Collect very ripe berries and grow them in individual containers the first year. The following autumn, plant them outdoors. They may also be propagated using softwood cuttings. Beautyberry shrubs readily reseed largely due to bird and animal activity, which raises the possibility that it could become invasive. If that is a concern, the best approach is to grow only the native C. americana species.
- Maintenance: Beautyberry flowers on current year’s growth. For the best berry display, cut the shrub back in late winter or early spring to a low permanent framework about six inches high. This shrub may spread out or become rangy over time. If that becomes an issue, the plant will respond well to renovation pruning, in which all flowering stems should be cut back to the base of the plant.
- Pests and Diseases: This is a mostly trouble-free plant. Potential problems may include minor leaf spot (atractilina callicarpae) and black mold (Meliola cookeana).
A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants (American Horticulture Society, 2008)
Clemson Cooperative Extension Home and Garden Information Center Publication No. HGIC 1086, “Beautyberry,” http://www.clemson.edu/extension/ghic
Dirr, Michael, 2011, Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs.
JCRaulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University Website http://jcra.ncsu.edu/
Ondra, Nancy J. and Cohen, Stephanie, 2007, Fallscaping – Extending Your Garden Season Into Autumn.
U. S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Fact Sheet. Available on-line at http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=CAAM2
Weakley, Alan S., Ludwig, J. Christopher, and Townsend, John F., 2012, Flora of Virginia.
Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’
I have been told that Callicarpa needs to be bought in twos or threes to ensure plenty of berries. Is this the case?
jane the dig
Hello Although this plant doesn’t need a pollinating partner if planted in groups you will usually have more berries.
I’ve just received my callicarpa (12l pot) and am struggling to find any advice as to when would be best to transfer it into the ground. I’m in the North East- will it cope with being planted out now in January or should I leave it outside in its pot until later in the year?
As these plants are fully hardy, they can be planted out at any time of the year provided the soil is not waterlogged or frozen. Please click on the following link for a bit more information. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEkSggFJMdE&t=16s
Why does our Callicarpa bodinieri giraldii fail to produce berries?
Hello, This could be caused by a number of things, but the most likely are either not enough sun, water or the right kind of fertiliser – which would ideally be a good multipurpose one that contains potash.
I live in the eastern edge of the West Midlands – do you think I could grow a Callicapa against an east north east facing fence?
Hello there We wouldn’t recommend this for an east facing aspect,- normally only south or west facing. Sorry.
Hello. I live in East Scotland and keep a beauty berry plant inside in my house extension. It has been there for three years but has hardly grown and does not look very happy. It is in full sunlight, regularly watered and fed bio care. Would the plant be happier outside where our temperature can drop very seriously in our winter ? If not, is there anything else I can do to help it inside ? Thank you. Jimmy.
Hello, If you have this particular Callicarpa, then it is classified by the RHS as being ”Hardy in most places throughout the UK even in severe winters (-15 to -10)”. I ahve never heard of these being grown as indoor plants, although I do know that some of the other callicarpas are not quite as hardy as this one. I would definitely advise planting this one outside though, as it certainly wont thrive inside – in fact I think you have done remarkably well managing to keep it alive for so long!
I planted this plant about 5 yrs ago, mid border, sunny, clay soil. It has grown but is reluctant to show any of the purple berries. Any suggestions why? Thanks
Hello, There are a number of reasons why plants do not flower – or go on to produce berries. The most likely reasons are not enough sun, pruning at the wrong time of the year, or insufficient water and nutrients. You can however give it a bit of a push in the right direction by feeding it with Sulphate of Potash, following the instructions on the packet.
American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is an easy-to-grow shrub that does well in the shade of large trees. Beautyberry commonly reaches four to six feet high, sometimes higher, and spreads laterally for many feet. This large bush needs a little room to spread. During early fall, the limbs become shish kebabs of bright purple berries.
Limbs of American Beautyberry bend under the weight of purple berries during early fall. (Photo by Bill Ward)
American Beautyberry is multi-branched and has large light-green ovate leaves. Patches of tiny white, pink, or blue flowers develop along the limbs during late spring. The flowers soon give way to clusters of green berries that presently turn magenta-purple.
This shrub can provide a good screen from spring to early winter. During some falls the leaves are bright lemon-yellow, but the autumn color is not dependable. Winter limbs are bare, but clusters of purple berries may remain even after the leaves fall. How long the berries stay depends on the birds in the vicinity. Mockingbirds, cardinals, and summer tanagers find the berries on our large backyard beautyberry too good to resist.
I first took notice of American Beautyberry over 50 years ago when we moved to East Texas as newlyweds. My geologic mapping took me into the piney woods, where I discovered a whole set of plants unknown to a boy from Central Texas. In those damp eastern woods, American beautyberry grows with ferns, wild azaleas, and flowering dogwood.
Long before there was a Native Plant Society of Texas, I discovered that some of those piney-woods plants can be good landscape plants. Our backyard in Tyler had many trees, shrubs, and flowers that were transplanted from the nearby woods. One of our favorites was the American Beautyberry or, as they called it in East Texas , “French mulberry.” After we moved to New Orleans , we continued the practice of landscaping with native plants, including American beautyberry, which there was called “Spanish mulberry.”
When we came to the Boerne area many years ago, I was startled to see a healthy growth of American Beautyberry on stream terraces at the Cibolo Nature Center. I had thought this was an eastern plant that needed acid soil. I was pleased to learn that the western limit of its range extends to Kendall and Bexar Counties, where it does just fine in the moist soils of canyons and bottomlands.
What pleased me even more was to find that American Beautyberry is readily available at local nurseries, and we could continue to have it as a yard plant. Besides that, white American Beautyberry (C. americana var.lactea) sometimes can be found at local nurseries. Its white berries are an interesting contrast to the usual purple clusters.
As I learned through the years, American Beautyberry is easy to transplant and can be cultivated in a variety of soil types. It is fairly drought-tolerant if grown in the shade. Even in shady spots, however, the leaves may look droopy in midday summer heat. Beautyberries grown in the sun require more water. Severe heat and drought may cause this plant to temporarily defoliate.
In many places in the wild, American Beautyberry seems to escape heavy browsing by deer. However, in our neighborhood, American Beautyberry is snipped by deer, at least during dry periods. All of our beautyberries have to grow inside wire-fence exclosures. If we are to have interesting diversity among our landscape plants in this area of deer over-population, then exclosures are necessary. Besides, I hardly notice the wire fences anymore, and I’m certainly glad to be able to enjoy the various plants.
Hi, I am Millie Davenport, a horticulture extension agent with the Clemson University Home and Garden Information Center.
Today we are looking at the American Beautyberry.
Today we are here in the South Carolina Botanical Gardens and we are looking at one of my favorite native plants. This is the American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana. The American Beautyberry is native to the southern region of the United States as well as into Mexico and into the West Indies. By looking at the plant, you can tell where this common name “Beautyberry” comes from, from this magnificent show of fruit. Now, the genus name Callicarpa does mean beautiful fruit as well. The American Beautyberry is a deciduous shrub, which means it is going to lose its foliage in the fall and reemerge with new growth the following spring. The new leaves when they come out are going to be a nice medium green color, they will reach up to 3 ½ to 6 inches long in length, and they are opposite one another on the branches as you can see here. The American Beautyberry has somewhat of a coarse texture to it, and it has kind of a somewhat upright habit with a loose structure to it. And, these really beautiful arching branches that come down. The Beautyberry does have a moderate growth rate, it can reach up to about 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide, but that of course, is depending on the growing conditions.
In the early summer months, the American Beautyberry will produce these really small, inconspicuous, not showy flowers. Now, by the end of the summer, late summer or early fall, you get these beautiful magenta berries that form from the flowers. The berries themselves are about ¼ inch in diameter individually, but they are in large clusters on the stem. And the clusters themselves can measure up to 1 ½ inches in diameter. The clusters do encircle all the way around the stem and they and they occur right where the nodes are, which is where your leaves are located. So, at each leaf location, you have a cluster of berries. The berries on the American Beautyberry can last well into winter, but, if the birds find them first, more than likely they are not going to last that long. The berries of the Callicarpa americana straight species are these nice violet, magenta color. Now, there is a variety of the species, it is called ‘Lactea’. It has these really nice, white berries. ‘Lactea’ means milk or Milky Way.
Now, if you decide that you need to prune the American Beautyberry in your landscape, you do have to consider the flowering time. With the American Beautyberry, the best time to prune is going to be late winter or early spring. And, the reason for that is because this plant produces its flowers and its fruit on the new growth that will be coming that year. Now, at that time you can do a renewal type of pruning, and with that you are going to cut this plant drastically back to about 1 foot in height. With the renewal pruning cut, you are going to get a lot more new growth from the plant. And, since the flowers and fruit produce themselves on the new growth, you are going to get a much showier plant that year.
Now, with all that said, the renewal pruning or any type of pruning is not necessary on the American Beautyberry to have a nice production of fruit each year. In fact, here at the SCBG, they don’t hardly ever prune their American Beautyberry plants. They do wait until pruning is needed to help rejuvenate the plants. So, they don’t do it each year, they just wait. This particular plant has been cut back; you can tell if you look deeper into the plant, you will find where the shoots have been cut back. But, they don’t tend to cut them back as drastically as we just mentioned with the renewal pruning. And, you see that we still have this really nice beautiful show of fruit on the plant.
Now, with this native plant, you get the benefit of these gorgeous berries as well as the fact that it is drought tolerant and able to adapt to various types of soils. However, it does prefer a wooded location, like we have here where it is going to get partial sun and have a moist well-drained soil.
The American Beautyberries’ vibrant fruit display is a great way to add fall interest to the landscape.
- Attributes: Genus: Callicarpa Species: americana Family: Lamiaceae Uses (Ethnobotany): Oils from the leaves act as a natural insect repellent. Life Cycle: Woody Recommended Propagation Strategy: Seed Stem Cutting Country Or Region Of Origin: Southeastern United States Fire Risk Rating: low flammability Wildlife Value: Its fruits are eaten by catbirds, American robin, brown thrasher, purple finch, eastern towhee, and other songbirds, raccoons, squirrels, and black bear. It is a very important fall food for migrant songbirds. White-tailed deer browse on the leaves in the summer and on the fruit after leaf drops in the fall. Play Value: Wildlife Food Source Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems): This plant is low maintenance and does not suffer from insect or disease problems. Resistant to fire in landscape. Dimensions: Height: 3 ft. 0 in. – 5 ft. 0 in. Width: 3 ft. 0 in. – 6 ft. 0 in.
- Whole Plant Traits: Plant Type: Native Plant Shrub Leaf Characteristics: Deciduous Habit/Form: Arching Erect Open Growth Rate: Medium Maintenance: Low Texture: Medium
- Cultural Conditions: Light: Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight) Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day) Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours) Soil Texture: Clay High Organic Matter Loam (Silt) Sand Soil Drainage: Good Drainage Moist Occasionally Dry Available Space To Plant: 3 feet-6 feet NC Region: Coastal Piedmont Usda Plant Hardiness Zone: 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b
- Fruit: Fruit Color: Pink Purple/Lavender Red/Burgundy Fruit Value To Gardener: Showy Display/Harvest Time: Fall Fruit Type: Drupe Fruit Length: < 1 inch Fruit Width: < 1 inch Fruit Description: Clusters of glossy pink-purple to red-violet drupes in fall. Magenta fruits circling the stem at nodes, prolific and showy.
- Flowers: Flower Color: Blue Pink Purple/Lavender Flower Inflorescence: Cyme Insignificant Flower Bloom Time: Summer Flower Size: < 1 inch Flower Description: The flowers appear on new growth where the leaves meet the stem, giving them the appearance of surrounding the branch. The light lavender-pink flowers bloom in cymes at axils June through August to add a little summer color to the landscape.
- Leaves: Leaf Characteristics: Deciduous Leaf Color: Green Deciduous Leaf Fall Color: Gold/Yellow Leaf Type: Simple Leaf Arrangement: Opposite Leaf Shape: Elliptical Ovate Leaf Margin: Serrate Hairs Present: No Leaf Length: 3-6 inches Leaf Description: Opposite, simple, elliptical-ovate, 3 ½ – 6″ long, ½ as wide, serrated, medium green, pubescent on top, tomentose below with glands. Petiole is ½ – 1″ long.
- Stem: Stem Is Aromatic: No
- Landscape: Landscape Location: Container Recreational Play Area Landscape Theme: Butterfly Garden Children’s Garden Native Garden Pollinator Garden Winter Garden Design Feature: Border Specimen Attracts: Butterflies Small Mammals Songbirds Resistance To Challenges: Fire Salt Wet Soil
Care Of Beautyberry: How To Grow American Beautyberry Shrubs
American beautyberry shrubs (Callicarpa americana, USDA zones 7 through 11) bloom in late summer, and although the flowers aren’t much to look at, the jewel-like, purple or white berries are dazzling. The fall foliage is an attractive yellow or chartreuse color. These 3- to 8-foot shrubs work well in borders, and you’ll also enjoy growing American beautyberries as specimen plants. The berries last several weeks after the leaves drop – If the birds don’t eat them all.
Beautyberry Shrub Info
Beautyberries live up to their common name, which comes from the botanical name Callicarpa, meaning beautiful fruit. Also called the American mulberry, beautyberries are Native American shrubs that grow wild in woodland areas in Southeastern states. Other types of beautyberries include the Asian species: Japanese beautyberry (C. japonica), Chinese purple beautyberry (C. dichotoma), and another Chinese species, C. bodinieri, which is cold hardy to USDA zone 5.
Beautyberry shrubs reseed themselves readily, and the Asian species are considered invasive in some areas. You can easily grow these shrubs from seeds. Collect the seeds from very ripe berries and grow them in individual containers. Keep them protected for the first year, and plant them outdoors the following winter.
Care of Beautyberry
Plant American beautyberries in a location with light shade and well-drained soil. If the soil is very poor, mix some compost with the fill dirt when you backfill the hole. Otherwise, wait until the following spring to feed the plant for the first time.
Young beautyberry shrubs need about an inch of rain per week. Give them a slow, deep watering when rainfall isn’t enough. They are drought-tolerant once established.
Beautyberries don’t need a lot of fertilizer, but will benefit from a shovelful or two of compost in spring.
How to Prune a Beautyberry
It’s best to prune American beautyberry shrubs in late winter or very early spring. There are two methods of pruning. The simplest is to cut the entire shrub back to 6 inches above the ground. It grows back with a neat, rounded shape. This method keeps the shrub small and compact. Beautyberry doesn’t need pruning every year if you use this system.
If you are concerned about a gap in the garden while the shrub regrows, prune it gradually. Each year, remove one-quarter to one-third of the oldest branches close to the ground. Using this method, the shrub grows up to 8 feet tall, and you will completely renew the plant every three to four years. Shearing off the plant at the desired height leads to an unattractive growth habit.
How, I ask you, HOW can you not immediately fall in love with a plant called “American beautyberry”? Our beloved nation, attractiveness, juicy bits of deliciousness . . . it just makes the heart swell. Here, take a Kleenex.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.
The emotive lexicon is well deserved. This large, deciduous shrub is truly beautiful, with long, arching branches bearing large, light green leaves, and clusters of little flowers that morph into green and then brilliant purple berries containing 3-4 seeds each.
The juicy berries are a source of food for more than 40 species of songbirds, including the American (but of course) robin, mockingbirds, woodpeckers and finches. Armadillos, foxes, opossum, squirrels, and raccoons like the berries, too. When desperately hungry, deer will eat the leaves of the plant and they’ll eat the berries after they’ve dropped.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.
Humans can eat the berries, too; they’re said to have a medicinal flavor when eaten raw. They can also be made into jam. Some people have reported upset stomach after eating the berries, however, so it might be best to try just a few before eating a big ol’ slice of beautyberry pie.
If animals and people don’t eat them all, the berries will persist well into winter, even after the leaves have all fallen.
Incidentally, while we’ve made a big deal about the Americanness of this plant that’s native to the southeastern United States, somehow, SOMEHOW, it’s also been saddled with the nickname “French mulberry.” Puhlease.
American beautyberry is appreciated for its fall interest — bright yellow leaves and, of course, the lovely bb-sized purple berries.
Cultivation and History
Native American tribes used the roots, leaves, and branches to treat malarial fevers and rheumatism. The roots were used to treat dizziness, stomachaches and dysentery. Roots and berries were boiled and drunk to treat colic.
In the early 1900s, farmers crushed the leaves and placed them under the harnesses of horses to repel mosquitoes. They also rubbed the crushed leaves on their skin to repel mosquitoes and other biting bugs.
If growing from seed, soak the seeds in clean, cool water for 24 hours.
Sow seeds 1/16-inch deep in small pots or seedling trays filled with seed-starter potting mix. Place trays or pots in a warm, sunny area.
Keep the soil lightly moist via a spray-bottle mister until the seedlings are transplant size, about three months after sowing.
This plant also liberally reseeds itself.
You can propagate beautyberry from softwood cuttings. Softwood is a stem that is not brand new nor old and woody.
Cut 4- to 6-inch stems from a healthy plant. Fill small pots with an all-purpose soil mix and insert and remove a pencil to create a hole for the cutting.
Remove the lower leaves from your cutting, dip the cleanly cut end into rooting hormone and place in the hole.
Create a mini greenhouse by placing a plastic dome or clear plastic bag over the pot or pots. Put it in bright, indirect light.
Read more about propagation techniques for this shrub here.
How to Grow
American beautyberry likes rich, organic soil, but it will tolerate less-delicious soils, as long as they are well-draining. Depending where you live and plant it, it may take full sun, though it will need lots of water. Here in Texas, it’s often used as an understory shrub, with dappled shade.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.
If you’re transplanting from a nursery container, dig a hole the the same depth as the root ball and a little wider. Place the root ball in the hole and backfill with native soil.
- Plant in rich soil if you can’t, but don’t sweat it if you can’t.
- Water well when young.
- No need to fertilize.
Pruning and Maintenance
In warmer areas, this shrub may be pruned back in late winter to about 2 feet less than the desired size.
Beautyberry is drought-tolerant once established, though it performs better with more hydration. And as we mentioned above, if you plant it in full sun, you’ll need to really dump the water on it.
This plant doesn’t require fertilization.
Where to Buy
If you’d like to buy a live plant, consider this one available via Amazon.
American BeautyBerry Bush Live Plant
You’ll get a small plant in a 3.5-inch square pot.
30 Seeds of Callicarpa Americana
If you prefer seeds, consider this packet of 30 seeds from IM WAODE via Amazon.
Managing Pests and Diseases
The only known beautyberry pests are the animals that enjoy the plant’s berries.
You may see minor leaf spots (Atractilina callicarpae) or black mold (Meliola cookeana), which can be treated with a fungicide.
This shrub looks spectacular in mass plantings, and it can be used in reclamation work and for erosion control.
It also makes a nice back-of-the-border plant.
Quick Reference Growing Guide
|Plant Type:||Woody shrub, deciduous||Flower / Foliage Color:||Light green leaves, lavender or pink flowers, purple berries|
|Native To:||Southeastern US as far north as Missouri||Tolerance:||Drought, shade, clay soil|
|Hardiness (USDA Zone):||6-10||Maintenance:||Minimal|
|Bloom Time / Season:||Blooms June-August; berries August-September||Soil Type:||Not picky|
|Exposure:||Sun to part shade||Soil pH:||4.8-7.0|
|Growth Rate:||Fast||Soil Drainage:||Well-drained|
|Spacing:||5 feet||Companion Planting:||Black-eyed susan, columbine, muhly grass|
|Planting Depth:||Same depth as container||Uses:||Mass plantings, back of borders|
|Water Needs:||Drought-tolerant but does better with regular watering, especially when young||Species:||C. americana|
|Attracts:||Birds and other wildlife|
|Pests & Diseases:||Black mold and leaf spots, damage from animals and birds.|
It’s Not FRENCH as Apple Pie
This large shrub with its long, arched, purple-berry-laden branches is a lovely piece of native American flora.
Sun or shade tolerate, not picky about soil, drought-tolerant — it’s a low-maintenance addition to the landscape.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.
Do you have American beautyberry in your garden? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
And to find more ornamental woody shrub choices for your backyard, be sure check out some of these guides:
- 19 Fragrant Flower and Shrub Favorites For Your Garden
- 13 of the Best Evergreen Shrubs for Your Garden
- The Best 15 Woody Shrubs for Fall Color
Photos by Gretchen Heber © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.
About Gretchen Heber
A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.