Taxonomy, Plant Type for Purple Beautyberry Shrubs
Plant taxonomy classifies beautyberry shrubs (sometimes misspelled as two words, "beauty berry") as Callicarpa. The species with which the present article is concerned, mainly, is Callicarpa dichotoma or "purple beautyberry shrub," a popular cultivar of which is 'Early Amethyst.' But there are other species, too, including:
- C. americana
- C. japonica
- C. bodinieri
C. dichotoma plants are deciduous flowering shrubs of the verbena family.
Purple Berries, 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. But other types produce white berries, such as:
- C. dichotoma 'Albifructus'
- C. japonica 'Leucocarpa'
- C. americana 'Lactea'
The fall foliage of Callicarpa is yellow. However, in a zone 5 landscape, 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.
Planting Zones, Sun and Soil Requirements for Beautyberry Shrubs
C. dichotoma is native to the Far East. It can be grown in planting zones 5-8.
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.
Outstanding Characteristic of the Plants
The outstanding characteristic of beautyberry shrubs is, no doubt, their berries, as their name suggests.
In fact, if it were not for its purple berries, there would be no reason to grow this otherwise unremarkable plant. But the fruiting display is so unusual (because of the color) and so spectacular that one gladly forgives the bush for lacking a single other redeeming feature. The striking color of its berry clusters makes it one of the most fun plants to grow in the yard. Indeed, purple beautyberry is one of the best landscaping plants that most gardeners do not know about. Not only are the berries a beautiful light purple color, but 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 (see below).
Uses in Landscaping, Wildlife Attracted to Purple Beautyberry Shrubs
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.
The birds treat these berries as they do bittersweet berries, for instance; that is, as an emergency food source, after all their preferred berry sources have been exhausted. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the flowers of C. dichotoma.
Care Tips (Pruning)
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.
Name Origin, Confusion With "Beautybush"
Plant names that are commonly confused include "beautyberry" shrub and "beautybush" (or "beauty bush"). The latter is a larger plant, and its scientific name is Kolkwitzia amabilis.
In comparing scientific and common names for this plant, we find an instance where the one signifies the other.
For Callicarpa is composed of two Greek roots, signifying "beautiful" and "fruit." Meanwhile, the specific epithet, dichotoma is also Greek, meaning, "cut in pairs" -- probably a reference to the way the berry clusters line the branches in pairs.