Beautyberry is a deciduous shrub found naturally in the southeastern United States. It typically grows 4 to 5 feet tall and wide, although it's been known to reach 9 feet in height. While beautyberry's foliage is unspectacular, this plant is known for one remarkable feature: bright purple berries that grow around the plant's stems in plump clusters.
Taxonomy of Purple Beautyberry Shrubs
Plant taxonomy classifies beautyberry shrubs (sometimes misspelled as two words, "beauty berry") as Callicarpa. These are deciduous flowering shrubs of the verbena family. Common species of beautyberry include:
- C. dichotoma
- C. americana
- C. japonica
- C. bodinieri
Beautyberry is often confused with "beautybush," or "beauty bush," (Kolkwitzia amabilis), a member of the honeysuckle family. The two plants are unrelated and are similar in name only.
Purple Berries and Other Characteristics
Purple beautyberry shrubs grow up to 4 feet tall, with a slightly greater spread. The arching branches bear pinkish to light purple flowers in summer, which mature into their signature light purple berries in autumn. Some types beautyberry produce white berries, such as:
- C. dichotoma 'Albifructus'
- C. japonica 'Leucocarpa'
- C. americana 'Lactea'
The fall foliage of Callicarpa is yellow. However, in colder climates, a frost can cause leaf color to pass from green to brownish, skipping the intermediate yellow altogether. As long as they remain on the branches, the brownish leaves greatly detract from the display of the berries, the more mature of which are not damaged by frost.
The outstanding characteristic of beautyberry shrubs is, no doubt, their berries, as their name suggests. Not only are the berries a beautiful light purple color, they also persist into winter, affording winter interest to human eyes starved for color in snowy regions. The purple berries remain attractive into early winter but may show signs of shriveling and discoloration by mid-winter. By late winter the berries may attract hungry wild birds.
Planting Zones, Sun and Soil Requirements
C. dichotoma is native to the Far East. It can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 8. A beautyberry bush indigenous to North America (southeastern U.S.) is C. americana. Either clayey or friable soil is fine for Callicarpa spp. Beautyberry shrubs should perform well for you whether in full sun or partial shade. These plants are not particularly fussy about growing conditions.
Landscaping Uses for Beautyberry
Due to their remarkable berry display, beautyberry shrubs are striking enough to be used individually, as specimen plants—all the more reason to grow several of them in a border: the more the merrier. Multiple plantings also ensure better berry production.
Wild birds benefit from Callicarpa berries, too. Birds treat these berries as they do bittersweet berries; that is, as an emergency food source, to be eaten after all their preferred berry sources have been exhausted. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the flowers of C. dichotoma.
Care Tips and Pruning Tips
Since beautyberry shrubs bloom on new wood, they are generally pruned (for shaping, if desired) in late winter. In fact, at the northern end of their range (zone 5), they are often treated as herbaceous perennials, by pruning them down to within 1 foot of the ground each year just before spring.