Purple pearl-like berries make Beautyberry a showstopper in native gardens

The bright berries that look more like clusters of elegant purple pearls are the prize at the end of summer that makes the American beautyberry bush a must for native gardeners.

The fact that these stunning, glossy, iridescent-magenta fruit, which hug the branches at leaf axils throughout fall and winter, are favourite food sources for migrating birds makes these shrubs among the most prized of plants for gardeners looking for a native plant that turns the sad end of summer into a celebration.

Bumble bee covered in pollen from Beautyberry flowers

This bumblebee became covered in pollen after working the beautyberry flowers. The flowers will eventually turn into the beautful pearl-like purple berries.

Beautyberries attract bees and butterflies

In mid summer, when the flowers are in bloom, the shrubs also attract native bees and butterflies.

What more can a native gardener ask for?

How about an attractive, arching shrub at home in a woodland understory or at the edge of a forest where it gets full sun to part sun,

Where can you grow Beautyberries?

American beautyberries (Callicarpa americana) are found in warmer parts of Canada and throughout the United States from Virginia to Arkansas and south to Florida and into Texas. They are generally hardy from Zones 6-1.

If you are looking for it growing naturally, look in woodlands, moist thickets and other wet areas including low rich bottomlands, swamp edges and pine woods.

If you are looking for more information on growing native flowers, you might be interested in going to my comprehensive article: Why we should use native plants in our gardens.

Other shrubs known for their berry production include a long list of viburnums. If you are looking to add more berry producers to your garden, check out my comprehensive post on Seven Viburnums that attract birds to your garden. In addition to Viburnums there are many plants, shrubs and small trees to consider. My post Best plants and shrubs to feed birds naturally and save money will help get you thinking about using plants and shrubs as natural bird feeders.

Are Beautyberries low maintenance?

If you are growing Beautyberry in your garden, you’ll be happy to know it is a low-maintenance shrub that is happy enough in moderately moist soil in part shade. Beautyberries grow in moist, rich soils as well as sandy soils, sandy loam and even clay-based soil.

Beautyberries boast spectacular, magenta fruit born in clusters on arching branches that can remain on the shrub into winter.

Is my Beautyberry dead?

Don’t be surprised in late spring if there is no sign of life in your Beautyberry. These shrubs are slow to bud out in the spring, but the American beautyberry can reach an average of 3-5 feet tall and often about the same width. In good soil, don’t be surprised if it reaches up to 9 feet high with a similar width. it can be cut down regularly to keep it in check if necessary.

During the summer, the shrub with its arching branches and ovate to elliptic, leaves. that grow in pairs or in threes up to nine inches long, are fairly inconspicuous blending in with other shrubs in the garden border or filling in under larger mid-canopy trees.

If used as a specimen, it can be an elegant understory shrub with a naturally loose and graceful arching form.

Plant it as a mid-size understory shrub at the edge of the landscape where it can get partial sunlight during the day, preferably in morning or late afternoon.

In late summer – mid august in our area – small, pink flowers appear in dense clusters at the base of the leaves. These delicate clusters of flowers are easily overlooked.

Gardeners familiar with the shrub know however, that the more flowers they have on their beautyberries the more berries they can look forward to in late summer into fall.

Flower buds on a Beautyberry bush getting set to emerge and eventually turn into the purple pearl-like fruit that is attractive to a variety of birds including robins, cardinals and mockingbirds.

The fruit or berries can be rose pink or lavender pink and about 1/4 inch long. The extremely showy clusters cling to the branches through the fall and into winter if the birds and garden mammals don’t get to them first.

Do Beautyberries have good fall colour?

Fall is really the time the shrub comes into its own as the leaves slowly turn yellow revealing the incredibly showy clusters of glossy fruit. The combination of the yellow leaves and magenta fruit is a combination that you will want to ensure is front and centre in the garden.

What birds eat the fruit of Beautyberry?

You can count on American robins, cardinals, finches, towhees and even mockingbirds visiting your shrub in search of the pearlescent, purple fruit. Foxes, raccoons, chipmunks and squirrels will also be lining up for the fruit.

Unfortunately, if you live in deer country, don’t be surprised if deer have a little nibble on the shrubs. Our deer have more or less left the plants alone, although there is so much more in the garden they obviously seem to prefer.

Although American Beautyberry shrubs are commercially available, (you may have to look for Callicarpa americana on the tag ) they are relatively easy to propagate from seeds, root cuttings and softwood tip cuttings. If you have a friend with one, take a cutting and get a couple for your garden.

Sophisticated elegance makes Beautyberry a late summer standout

The American Beautyberry shrub is another example of a native plant that is often overlooked by gardeners focusing on massive, showy blooms that dominate the landscape but often fall short once the blooms are spent.

This is not what the Beautyberry is all about. Although these understory shrubs have a certain elegance in the woodland garden with their arching stems, don’t expect them to steal the show during the spring and summer months.

But that’s okay.

There are plenty of flowers, shrubs and flowering trees that can do the heavy lifting in May and June. Gardens need colour and interest in late summer into fall and that’s when the American Beautyberry really delivers. As already discussed, the berries/fruit are the showstoppers, but don’t underestimate the fall foliage. The green and almost lemon-yellow foliage of the Beauty-berry is the perfect contrast to all the reds and burnt orange that tends to dominate the landscape at this time of year.

Not only do Beautyberry carry their weight in fall, but they add much needed winter interest to the landscape with their purple berries popping out of the drab landscape. Imagine watching a cardinal feeding on the colourful fruit and you will know why native woodland gardeners have a special place in their hearts for Callicarpa americana.

Vic MacBournie

Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and shares his photography with readers.


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