03 December 2015

Native Beautyberry Shrubs are Callicarpa americana

American Beautyberry shrub is a native, American shrub in the Verbena plant family. Their native range is primarily in USDA growing zones 7 to 9. Since they do best in such a narrow range, they have not become a widely promoted or planted shrub.

Beautyberries are naturalized in moist woodlands from southern Maryland to NC and from OK to Mexico.  When they are planted in colder areas, such as St. Louis, they die to the ground in the winter.

American Beautyberry flowers in June
There are over a thousand other plants in the Verbenaceae family including all the verbenas, vervains, and lantanas.

American Beautyberry takes its time growing into the mature size of 3 to 6 feet tall and wide, or more.  The summertime flowers are small, pink-white, clusters that pollinators are drawn to. After the flowers fade the loose-stemmed shrub has arching stems of mid-green leaves that provide a backdrop for summer flowers. 

In the fall, all of those clusters of pollinated flowers become clusters of glossy, rose-purple berries (fruit).  Since the branch form is weeping, similar to Forsythia, the berries are displayed in the most appealing way to show off their shocking color.

Their cascading branching also makes them ideal candidates for a raised planter, bonsai and cut branches for indoor use. They also do well under pine trees that have been limbed up enough to allow for sun and they make good plantings along open fences.

American Beautyberry seeds October
They are not vulnerable to any diseases. If the shrubs are against a solid wall or are planted so close together in a mixed shrub border that air cannot circulate, scale can become a short-term problem.

The only warning about Beautyberry shrubs is that they are native plants and as such they are loved by wildlife, including deer.

There will be pollinators in the spring, including bees. In the summer, birds will be in and around them. The berries are favored by birds such mockingbird, robin, bobwhite, brown thrashers, catbird and towhee, as well as armadillo, possum, and raccoon.

American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, is easy to transplant into a wide variety of soil types. In their native habitat they thrive in moist wooded areas, can tolerate soil that is seasonally wet and dry, clay, sandy, acid, rich, and calcareous (calcium from rocks and shells).

Like most woodland plants, they will have the biggest display of flowers and fruit if they receive several hours of sun each day but do not require full sun to thrive.  Ours are planted with native peach trees that protect them from the southern sun during the hottest part of the summer.

Try to purchase Callicarpa americana specifically. Lactea is a hybrid of the American native that has white flowers and white berries.

The Chinese varieties, including Callicarpa japonica, Callicarpa bodinieri and Callicarpa dichotoma can become aggressive, crowding out other plants in the shrub row. The Chinese varieties are available with white, lavender and purple fruit. The common names for the Chinese shrubs include Virginia and Profusion.

The soil provides all the fertility Beautyberries need to thrive and fertilizing will make them leggy.

Prune mature Beautyberry shrubs in late winter in order to maintain a compact form. They can be entirely cut back to 6-12 inches off the ground.

Remove dead or dying branches but resist the temptation to shape or prune during the growing season because the pruned stems will sprout new, weak, growth.

You can propagate Beautyberry in order to have more plants for your garden and to give away. Simply take cuttings in the spring and plant them in containers.

Callicarpa’s name comes from two Greek words: kallos (beauty) and karpos (fruit).

One mail order source for the shrubs is NativNurseries, www.nativnurseries.com.



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