Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is a deciduous shrub found naturally in the southeastern United States. It grows between 3 and 6 feet tall and wide on average, though it's been known to reach 9 feet tall. It has a moderate to fast growth rate, gaining around 1 to 2 feet per year until it is mature. The shrub can be planted in the fall or spring. Beautyberry does not attract pests or diseases.
While beautyberry's medium green foliage (ovate, toothed leaves on arching stems) is unspectacular and its pink or light purple flowers are fairly insignificant, this plant is known for one remarkable feature: its bright purple berries that grow around the plant's stems in plump clusters. (Some varieties have white berries instead.) The berries appear in the late summer or early fall and can persist into winter, providing visual interest for the landscape and food for wildlife. The berries are edible for both people and animals, and some people even use them to make jelly and other foods. In the fall, beautyberry foliage turns yellow, though frost can cause the leaf color to pass directly from green to brown before the leaves drop for winter.
|Botanical Name||Callicarpa americana|
|Common Name||American beautyberry, beautyberry, French mulberry|
|Mature Size||3-6 ft. tall, 3-6 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Clay, moist|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer|
|Flower Color||Pink, lavender|
|Hardiness Zones||6-10 (USDA)|
|Native Areas||North America|
Due to their remarkable berry display, beautyberry shrubs are striking enough to be used individually as specimen plants. You also can grow several of them as a border. To plant a beautyberry shrub, sink the root ball just slightly lower than ground level so that it can be covered with soil. Typically, as long as you live within beautyberry’s growing zones, the native soil and conditions will be fine to successfully grow a healthy plant.
Maintenance is minimal for this shrub once it's established. Plan to water during stretches without rainfall, and prune as needed to maintain the shape of the shrub.
Beautyberry shrubs generally do fine either in full sun or partial shade. They naturally grow on the edges of wooded areas where the amount of sunlight they get can vary. More sunlight will result in higher berry production. However, more sunlight will also increase the shrub's need for water.
Beautyberry shrubs prefer moist clay or friable soil (soil with a crumbly texture) that's rich in organic matter (pH 5.0 to 7.0). This mimics the forest floor where they naturally grow. However, they can tolerate most soil types except one that's severely lacking in nutrients.
These plants like moist soil, but they can tolerate somewhat dry conditions. Roughly 1 inch per week of water is ideal. But if your shrub is in a particularly sunny spot, you've had hot weather, or you've had minimal rainfall, the plant will likely benefit from more water.
Temperature and Humidity
Beautyberry shrubs thrive throughout their hardiness zones and don't have any particular temperature or humidity requirements. A layer of mulch around the base of the shrub can help to keep its roots at a consistent temperature, which will benefit the shrub's overall health.
These shrubs generally do not need fertilizer unless you have very nutrient-poor soil. A shovelful or two of compost in the spring can benefit beautyberry's growth. But too much fertilizer can result in decreased berry production.
Types of Beautyberry
Besides the American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), some other species of beautyberry include:
- 'Bodinier's beautyberry' (Callicarpa bodinieri): This shrub is native to China and grows to around 10 feet tall by 8 feet wide. Like the American beautyberry, it also produces purple berries. But it is more cold-tolerant than the American version.
- 'Japanese beautyberry' (Callicarpa japonica): This shrub is native to Japan and reaches around 4-6 feet tall and wide. It produces clusters of bright purple berries.
- 'Chinese beautyberry' (Callicarpa dichotoma): This shrub is native to China, Japan, and Korea, and it too produces purple fruits. It reaches between 2-4 feet tall and 3-5 feet wide.
Because beautyberry shrubs bloom on new wood, they are generally pruned as desired for shaping in the late winter before new growth begins. Beautyberry's berries can last throughout the winter months, giving a bright pop of color to your winter garden but you should cut it back in late winter for better berry growth.
At the northern end of their growing zones, these shrubs are often pruned down to within 1 foot of the ground each year in the winter because the cold can make the old growth unattractive.
The beautyberry shrub will reseed itself and you can propagate it by digging out volunteer seedlings that pop up around the plant and replanting them in a new location. You also can propagate the shrub from seed although the seeds are slow to germinate and germination is somewhat erratic. To increase your chances of germination, start with a generous amount of seeds.
- In the fall, gather seeds from very ripe berries. Let them air-dry and store them in a cool, dark place.
- In late winter, soak the seeds in cool water for 24 hours to soften the seed coat. Fill 4-inch pots or seedling trays with a mixture of light potting mix. Water it slowly until the soil is evenly moist.
- Place about half a dozen seeds in each pot and cover the seeds only lightly with soil.
- Place the pots indoors near a bright window. Make sure the soil is constantly moist but not soggy. Germination can take up to three months. Keep the soil moist at all times.
- Keep all but the strongest seedling in each pot and cut off the rest with scissors. Don't pull the extra seedlings out, which can damage the roots of the other seedlings.
- Once the root system of the new beautyberry has filled the pot (when roots start to grow out of the drain holes), it is ready to be transplanted outdoors.
How to Grow Beautyberry From Seed
Whether you sow seeds that you collected yourself from your own beautyberry shrub, or you start with purchased seeds, the process is the same. Follow the steps for beautyberry propagation above.
How long does a beautyberry plant live?
These plants can survive for several years in the right conditions. They often drop seeds that can stay dormant in the soil, bursting to life long after the original plant is gone.
Can beautyberry grow indoors?
Beautyberry can be started as a seedling indoors and nurtured to prepare for planting. But since the shrub loves to spread out and needs space for its wide root system, it is best grown in a garden setting outdoors.
What plants are similar to beautyberry?
Beautyberry is not the only plant that offers beautiful berries as the centerpiece. Cotoneaster offers vivid red berries in fall and winter. Buckland is an evergreen shrub known for purple berries. And of course, American Holly is quite famous for the vivid berries and uniquely shaped leaves.