Callicarpa americana. This shrub is truly spectacular in early fall, with clusters of glistening rose-purple berries spaced with opposite leaves on long stems that achieve a curved or weeping form as they age. Birds love this plant—mockingbirds will perch on the branches and eat the fruits one at a time. If not all consumed, these fruits are long-lasting and provide food for many birds and wildlife well into the winter months.
Beautyberry prefers sun and soil a little moist, but is not fussy about growing conditions and does well in light shade and dry soils. In good habitat, this multi-stemmed shrub can grow to over 6 feet in height and width. To reduce the height and produce more berries, the branches can be heavily pruned in late winter just before the leaves appear, since the flowers appear on new growth. The plant will self-seed and branches will root if they rest on the ground. Small clusters of pink to white flowers appear in June. They can self-pollinate if the shrub stands alone, but several plants together will result in better fruit production.
This is an impressive plant that requires little care, grows fast, and quickly fills space. Most nurseries and plant sales by Master Gardeners and native plant chapters will offer specimens for sale. Three Asian species, C. japonica from Japan and C. dichotoma and C. bodinieri from China, are offered for sale in local nurseries. Cultivars from these Asian species offer a more upright growth habitat, longer-persisting fruits, or cold tolerance; however, our native birds and insects are more familiar with the straight native species.
The fruits are edible for human consumption; they don’t have much flavor, but are delicious when made into jelly. The roots, leaves, and branches of the American beautyberry were used by Native American tribes for various medicinal purposes. Parts of the plant were prepared for treatment of rheumatism, stomachaches, dysentery, and colic, among other ailments.
A walking trail in New Quarter Park in York County has been planted with Beauty-berry on both sides, the branches forming an arch over the trail.
By Helen Hamilton, past-president of the John Clayton Chapter, VNPS
Photo: American Beauty-berry (Callicarpa Americana) taken by Helen Hamilton