Sometimes a small-town girl just never fits in with her hometown. She’s too classy, too exotic, too…different. That’s beautyberry. Brilliant purple fruits, like tiny jewels, twist into brooches at intervals along its branches. Although fall is no stranger to vivid color, this bright violet stands out from the rest like Madonna in Flint, Michigan. If birds don’t eat them, these fruits (not technically berries, but drupes) last for an entire season, from late summer into early winter. Without its jewels, this native Southeastern shrub is less spectacular but still a fine neighbor, with a loose, open habit, fuzzy green leaves, and a modest size that won’t overwhelm its companions.
Common name: Beautyberry, French mulberry
Botanical name: Callicarpa americana
Plant type: Deciduous shrub
Zones: 6 to 9 (should survive but may not fruit in Zone 5)
Height: 3 to 6 feet tall
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Rich and humus-filled
• Moisture: Average to moist
• Mulch: Mulch to help keep soil moist.
• Pruning: Prune out dead branches in spring. Can be pruned back to about 1 foot above the ground in spring to encourage vigorous new shoots.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed and cutting
Pests and diseases
• Vulnerable to black mildew, leaf scorch, leaf spots, and dieback.
• Beautyberry really shines in the fall, when its brilliant purple fruits are at their peak. Use it in the back of a fall bed, surrounded by classic fall flowers like asters and black-eyed Susans, a clump or two of small ornamental grasses (little bluestem has good fall color), a dwarf evergreen, and another fall-color shrub such as dogwood.
• Beautyberry shrubs attract birds and butterflies.
• Though beautyberry is self-fruitful, you’ll get more fruit if you plant at least two bushes, which allows for cross-pollination.
All in the family
• The genus Callicarpa contains about 140 species, which are found mainly in tropical and subtropical regions. The family, Verbenaceae, contains two other genera familiar to many gardeners: Verbena and Lantana.
• A few Asian relatives of Callicarpa americana are found in North American gardens. C. dichotoma and C. japonica are very popular, but they’re invasive in some regions. Even C. americana, given perfect conditions, self-sows to the extent that it’s considered weedy.
Where to buy
• Big Dipper Farm, Black Diamond, WA, 360-886-8133, www.bigdipperfarm.com
• Rare Find Nursery, Jackson, NJ, 732-833-0613, www.RareFindNursery.com
• Thyme After Thyme, Winterville, GA, 706-742-7149, www.thymeafterthyme.com
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of C. americana ‘Berries and Cream’ by Tracy Walsh.)