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.
While beautyberry's medium green foliage 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 nontoxic to 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|
|Plant Type||Perennial shrub|
|Mature Size||3 to 6 feet tall and wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to partial shade|
|Soil Type||Moist, rich|
|Soil pH||5 to 7|
|Bloom Time||Late spring to midsummer|
|Flower Color||Pink, lavender|
|Hardiness Zones||6 to 10|
|Native Areas||North America|
|Toxicity||Nontoxic to humans and animals|
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. Beautyberry is very resistant to diseases and pests, making it a particularly easy shrub to grow. 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 a moist clay or friable soil (soil with a crumbly texture) that's rich in organic matter. This mimics the forest floor where they naturally grow. However, they can tolerate most soil types except for soil that's severely lacking in nutrients.
These plants like moist soil, but they can tolerate somewhat dry conditions. Roughly an 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 a decreased berry production.
Because beautyberry shrubs bloom on new wood, they are generally pruned as desired for shaping in the late winter before new growth begins. 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. But you also can collect the seeds to grow new shrubs. Gather seeds from very ripe berries, and plant them in individual containers. Keep the containers indoors near a bright window during the first year. Make sure the soil remains evenly moist but not soggy. Then, you can plant the seedlings outside at the start of the next growing season.
Varieties 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 to 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 to 4 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide.