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 growth rate, gaining around 1 to 2 feet per year until it is mature, and it can be planted in the fall or spring.
While beautyberry's medium green foliage (ovate, toothed leaves on arching stems) is unspectacular and its flowers are fairly insignificant, its bright purple berries that grow in plump clusters put on a show. (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.
|Common Name||American beautyberry, beautyberry, French mulberry|
|Botanical Name||Callicarpa americana|
|Mature Size||3–6 ft. tall, 3–6 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, clay, moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer|
|Flower Color||Pink, purple, white|
|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 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. This shrub is not prone to pest or disease problems. And maintenance for it is minimal, especially 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, meaning at minimum two hours of direct sun per day. 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 friable soil (soil with a crumbly texture) that's rich in organic matter and has good drainage. And they prefer a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH. This mimics the forest floor where they naturally grow. However, they can tolerate most soil types, including clay soil, except soil 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. They do have good heat tolerance as long as their moisture needs are met.
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
There are several types of American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), including:
- 'Alba': This beautyberry shrub is known for its white berries.
- 'Lactea': This beautyberry also features white fruits.
- 'Welch's Pink': This shrub is known for its pink berries.
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 still go forward with pruning, even if it means sacrificing some berries, because it will lead to better berry growth in the future.
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 cuttings taken in the late spring or early summer. This is an inexpensive and easy way to make more of a shrub variety that you particularly like. Here's how:
- Cut a section of healthy stem that's around 6 inches long. Avoid old woody stem.
- Remove any leaves on the lower half of the cutting.
- Dip the cut end in rooting hormone, and plant it in a small container filled with moist soilless potting mix.
- Put a clear plastic bag over the container to help retain moisture, and place the container in bright, indirect light.
- Keep the soil evenly moist but never soggy. Once you see notable foliage growth, you'll know roots have formed. It can take about two to three months for substantial root growth. Then, the new shrub is ready for transplanting.
How to Grow Beautyberry From Seed
Beautyberry 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 seed-starting mix. Water it slowly until the soil is evenly moist.
- Place around six 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 all but the strongest seedling in each pot, and cut off the rest with scissors. Don't pull the extra seedlings out, as this 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.
Outside of potentially pruning your shrub close to the ground, no special treatment for the winter is typically necessary. But you can add a layer of mulch around the base of your shrub to help keep the roots at a consistent temperature.
How to Get Beautyberry to Bloom
Beautyberry flowers are largely insignificant, but they are necessary for the fruit production that the shrub is known for. The flowers come in shades of purple, pink, and white. They arrive in the spring and summer, growing in clusters with each flower stretching less than an inch across. Insufficient sunlight is often the culprit if your beautyberry isn't blooming. The shrub also might not be getting enough water. But as long as conditions are right, no special care is typically necessary during the shrub's bloom time.
Common Problems With Beautyberry
Beautyberry shrubs don't frequently have issues when grown in the environment they like. But sometimes conditions can cause atypical growth.
Leaves Turning Brown
In the fall, beautyberry foliage usually turns a golden yellow. However, frost can cause the leaves to go straight from green to brown before they drop for winter. So if you notice browning leaves in the fall prior to the yellow fall foliage you're used to, that might be the culprit. However, the foliage should come back healthy in the spring.
How long can beautyberry live?
These shrubs can survive for several years in the right conditions. Plus, they often drop seeds that can stay dormant in the soil, bursting to life after the original plant is gone.
What are alternatives to beautyberry?
Beautyberry is not the only plant that offers beautiful berries as its centerpiece. Cotoneaster offers vivid red berries in fall and winter. Buckland is an evergreen shrub known for its purple berries. And, of course, American holly is famous for its vivid berries and uniquely shaped leaves.
Can beautyberry grow indoors?
Beautyberry can be started as a seedling or cutting indoors and nurtured to prepare for planting. But because the shrub loves to spread out and needs space for its wide root system, it is best grown in a garden setting outdoors.