American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, is aptly named as the latin name means beauty + fruit. The purple jewel-like berries are arranged artfully on cascading branches of this wonderful deciduous and deer resistant shrub.
Native to the central and southeastern United States, it is found naturally growing in open meadows and woodlands. A nutritional powerhouse, with the leaves and twigs high in protein, Callicarpa provides spring nectar for bees, and year-round sustenance for at least 40 species of mammals and birds. A bonus is the leaves when crushed produce a natural chemical that repels mosquitoes, an attribute which has been backed up by scientific evidence. If sitting outside on a hot summer evening, I pluck some of the foliage and crush it to release the oil to repels mosquitoes.
Locating & Growing Your Beautyberries
Under-used in the landscape, this shrub deserves a prominent place in any ornamental garden where the berries shine for at least 3 to 4 months of the year. Insects of all kind flock to the unremarkable tiny flowers that align along the branches during the summer, but then the main show of berries appears.
Once the leaves fall in early autumn, the violet berries persist and stand out on the bare branches. Preferring a loose organic soil, I have grown this shrub for years in my clay soil here in at my home in Maryland in USDA zone 6b – 7. Attaining a height of 6-8’ and almost as wide, you need some space to plant this easy to grow shrub.
Attractive to birds, the berries stay around for a long time and disappear when severe winter temperatures arrive. Never bothered by pests or disease, these shrubs should be used more frequently as deer rarely browse on them and they thrive in sun, partial shade, or full shade. I grow a group of several under the canopy of a magnolia tree which is very shady, and they thrive. But the callicarpa in the sunnier areas of my property, produce more profuse berries.
Suited for mass plantings, when the shrubs are covered with the shiny purple berries, they are breath taking and many visitors stop to take a look and ask me what they are. Producing more berries if several are planted together, they are great covering a slope or a naturalized area. Suitable for a pollinator garden, it is a beautiful low maintenance choice for native gardeners interested in sustaining our local pollinators.
Pruning/ Other Varieties
To keep this shrub manageable, I cut it back to about 2’ high in the early spring before it shoots out new growth. Callicarpa blooms on new wood, so I treat it like a Butterfly Bush and cut it back hard in late winter to manage its size to around 4 to 5’ high. I find that hard pruning not only creates a more compact shrub but the berries are more profuse.
There is a less common white form called Callicarpa americana v lactea, which is very striking in the landscape and finds its way into many of my fall floral arrangements. And there are some Asian cultivars such as Callicarpa dichotoma or C. bodinieri which sometimes are more readily available at nurseries. Seek out the native Callicarpa americana native for a beautiful deciduous native plant.