All About American Beautyberry

By (@wildflowers) on
I really look forward to fall when so many plants change into their colorful fall wardrobes; it's such a beautiful sight. The American Beautyberry is one such plant that makes quite a showing, boasting bright magenta berries that look much like bracelets of amethyst beads glistening in clusters along drooping branches.

It was only a few years ago that I discovered the American Beautyberry bush, just since moving to northeastern Texas where it grows wild along the woods' edge.  I still remember the day I saw the beautiful berries for the first time.  It seems like overnight the berries appeared along the arching stems. They caught my eye and it was like finding a treasure.  Since that day, I've learned lots about this American beauty and I would like to share my notes with you.

2011-09-29/wildflowers/a6ead3

Native Habitat

American Beautyberry, sometimes called French Mulberry, Callicarpa americana is a US native deciduous shrub that grows wild from Maryland to Florida and west through Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas.  It's in the Vervain family (Verbenaceae).  In the wild, it can occur in a wide variety of sites, from dry to moist, from open to shady.  It's often found throughout southern forests where pine, oak, and hickory are predominant canopy trees, and this is where I find it looks the happiest.  It also seems more prolific in moist soil, with the rich leaf matter on the ground. In the wild, beautyberries can be found growing in masses.

Description

2011-09-28/wildflowers/72750e

The plant itself has a sprawling habit with woody, multi-stemmed branches and large, toothed,  green foliage.  It's not until late April that the leaves begin to appear, but they go unnoticed as the plant sits back along the outskirts of the forest.  Later, the small pinkish-white flowers are also rather inconspicuous as they appear in clusters (called cymes) from the leaf nodes along the stems sometime in July.  The large leaves can hide the blooms and if you are not paying attention, you can miss them altogether, although they are very attractive to butterflies and bees.  The shrubs are known to grow up to 10 feet tall, but most of the beautyberries around here are probably about 6 feet tall and maybe just as wide, at the most. 

Then all of a sudden the fruit appears, seemingly overnight.  Of course I now know that these juicy fruits appear like eye-candy in September and continue through November before shriveling into raisins.  I have to tell you that none of my pictures really captures how striking the berries look.  The magenta color has such a sheen, maybe more of a bright iridescent fuchsia color, yet more purple with a metallic finish. They really do look like jewels.

2011-09-26/wildflowers/ea81f2

Food for wildlife

The plants and berries are also attractive to a variety of wildlife.  Lots of birds dine on the fresh berries and seeds, including over forty songbirds, and even the raisins are consumed.  Beautyberries are an important food source for many birds, such as bobwhite quail, robins, cardinals, catbirds, finches, mockingbirds, thrashers and towhees. Other animals that eat the fruit include armadillos, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, gray foxes, and some rodents.  The white tail deer will browse the leaves.  When we first moved here, we noticed that the deer were bedding down in the beautyberry bushes, which brings up another subject: the plant's ability to repel insects.

Uses

Insect Repellent  The beautyberry plant has been a traditional folk remedy for repelling mosquitoes, horseflies, deerflies, ticks, and other biting insects for over a century.  Folks in the Mississippi hill country would cut the leafy branches, crush the leaves, and then place the branches between the harness and the horse to keep deerflies, horseflies, and mosquitoes away.  I have tried using crushed beautyberry leaves and berries to repel mosquitoes.  I recall one time when I was out exploring about the time the mosquitoes became active.  I had read about the beautyberry, but couldn't remember whether it was the leaves or berries that would repel them, so I crushed some of both and rubbed them on my face, arms, and legs.  Although I was already itching, the mosquitoes seemed to have vanished and were no longer flying around me as I made my way home.  More recently, scientific studies have been done to confirm that the leaves of Callicarpa americana contain compounds that definitely repel mosquitoes and other biting insects.  I should use it more often.

And, as I was saying about the white tail deer bedding down among the

2011-09-26/wildflowers/341a1a

beautyberries, I wonder if they know of the plant's ability to keep the deerflies and ticks away.  Just a thought. 

Another exciting finding in more recent studies is that the leaves of Callicarpa contain terpenoids that repel fire ants. 

Scientists Confirm Folk Remedy Repels Mosquitoes

Edible berries 

Although the berries aren't very desirable to eat off the bush, they do make a very fine jelly. The flavor is mild and pleasant.   I don't know exactly what to compare the flavor to. Maybe some other wild berry, such as elderberry.   I made some jelly a couple of years ago, but I don't know what I did with the recipe.  Here's one I found on line that looks about right - American Beautyberry Jelly.   I do have a recipe to make American beautyberry wine, but I've never tried making any (yet). If you're interested, just tree-mail me and I'll send it to you.

Decorative  The beaded branches make beautiful dry arrangements.  The berries can be used as a dye.

History-medicinal  All parts of Callicarpa americana were used by the Alabama, Choctaw, Creek, Koasati, Seminole, and other Native American tribes. Roots, leaves, berries, and stems were used as the base for various teas and decoctions.  Root and leaf tea was used in sweat baths for rheumatism, fevers, and malaria.  Root tea was used for dysentery and stomach aches.  The root and berries were used for colic and as a treatment for a wide variety of common ailments.  It was also used in ceremonies.  The bark from the stems and the roots were used to treat itchy skin.

Cultivation

With all its attractive features, maybe you are considering adding the beautyberry to your landscape design.  It would look wonderful in mixed borders, as a specimen shrub, or planted into your native landscape. 

USDA hardiness Zones 6-10. American beautyberry is easily propagated by seed or

2011-09-26/wildflowers/8ccec2

softwood cuttings.  Birds do a good job of distributing seeds and the shrub self-seeds just as well.  The many volunteers that the plant produces are very hardy and can be dug up and transplanted.  It also makes a wonderful container plant which may be preferred by some gardeners.  The shrub is not bothered by pests; nor does it have any major diseases that I know of.  Autumn is a good time to transplant and ensure that your plant will be adorned with amethyst gems in your garden next fall.  It can take a hard pruning and can be cut to the ground in the winter or early spring.

This plant is very heat tolerant and, once established, will survive the harshest of drought.  This year in Texas, we've had the worst drought in recorded history.  The beautyberry bushes are wearing fewer jewels than usual, but they certainly are making an appearance.  They're also very cold hardy through frost, freezing, and snow.

If you've never seen an American Beautyberry plant in the autumn, I would recommend finding one. They really do live up to their name. This would be a perfect time, while you can still behold its amazing fall beauty.

» View more Gardening Ideas by wildflowers
« View all our Gardening Ideas

 
Comments and discussion:
Thread Title Last Reply Replies
Good article by florange Nov 26, 2016 12:21 PM 0
beayty berry wine by npmc10 Nov 26, 2016 10:16 AM 4
Beauty Berry by meme4beach Sep 25, 2016 7:44 AM 1
I didn't know they were edible by pestee45 Sep 2, 2016 11:19 AM 13
Beautyberries - cool summers. by magga Mar 3, 2015 12:53 PM 3
NIce article by SongofJoy Oct 26, 2011 7:26 AM 12
Great information, Makes me want to buy another one! by virginiarose Oct 25, 2011 11:07 AM 4
Great idea! by KyWoods Oct 19, 2011 8:13 AM 5
I did not know beautyberry was a mosquito repellant by Bubbles Oct 18, 2011 1:41 PM 8

Today's site banner is by sunnyvalley and is called "Grape Hyacinth"