The iridescent purple fruit of the American beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, is an important food for many species of birds. The quarter inch, round berries encase stems of the shrub in dense clusters throughout late summer and fall.
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If you’re looking for a deer resistant plant, this isn’t it. The coarse leaves of C. americana are a favorite snack of the White-tailed deer.
The leaves grow up the stems in pairs, one on either side.
They are a dull green, noticeably veined on top and slightly hairy on the underside.
The top half of the leaf is toothed while the half closest to the petiole has smooth edges.
A mature leaf can be 5 or 6 inches long and half as wide.
This is one of those rare set and forget plants.
Install it in any fast draining soil and keep it moist until it gets a firm foothold.
After the first few months, it will do just fine on natural rainfall and whatever fertilizer you’re giving the plants around it.
Callicarpa americana will grow to 10 feet, if left to its own devices. Most gardeners prefer to keep it more compact. This is easily accomplished by cutting it back to 1 foot after the last frost date.
The result of this yearly pruning is a vase-shaped shrub which will reach a height of 3-6 feet by late summer depending on growing conditions. Without pruning, beautyberry will not only become too tall but it will sprawl wildly.
In late spring, buds will form on the stems. These will be quickly followed by pretty pink flowers. The bright berries that this plant is famous for appear in late summer. They persist through the winter.
The foliage turns yellow as the weather cools before dropping to leave the berries alone on the stems.
American beautyberry is native to the American south. It is found in woodlands from Virginia to Arkansas, Florida and Texas.
It is tap rooted and, like most natives, will live on natural rainfall once established. It is not picky about soil or exposure. Anything from full sun to shade will be tolerated. Of course, bloom is better and growth more compact in sun.
You may not need to propagate Callicarpa americana as the birds will sometimes do it for you. Just keep an eye out for seedlings around the yard as the birds may deposit the seed at some distance from the mother plant.
I do not mean to imply that the American beautyberry plant is weedy. It isn’t. The seeds require fairly exacting conditions in order to sprout. I’ve had 5 volunteers show up in my yard in the past 15 years. For this reason, I do not recommend starting new plants from seed.
If you’ve beat the bushes and can’t find a seedling, strike tip cuttings of soft wood in the spring or early summer.