How to Manage and Identify American Beautyberry

American Beautyberry
Steve Nix / About Forestry

American beautyberry has colorful berries that last long into winter and are eaten by a variety of wildlife. Beautyberry has proven to be an attractive plant for wildlife within its native range.

Birds including robins, catbirds, cardinals, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, finches and towhees are favorite consumers of both the fresh berries and shriveled raisins. The fruit is heavily used by white-tailed deer and will be eaten well into late November.

Specifics

  • Scientific name: Callicarpa americana
  • Pronunciation: kallee-CAR-pa ameri-KON-a
  • Common name(s): American beautyberry, beautyberry, French mulberry
  • USDA hardiness zones: 6 through 10
  • Origin: native from Maryland to Florida and west through Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas.
  • Uses: natural garden specimen; wildlife food; spring flowers
  • Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the tree.

American Beautyberry's Ecology

Beautyberry commonly occurs on a wide variety of sites; moist to dry, open to shady. A favorite place for the American beautyberry is under open stands of pines. It is a pioneer and grows in newly disturbed forests, along forest margins, and along fencerows. It is somewhat fire-tolerant and increases in abundance after burns. Birds will readily spread seeds.

Description

  • Leaf: Opposite, deciduous, ovate to broadly lanceolate, 6 to 10 inches long, margins coarsely serrate to crenate except near base and hairy beneath with prominent veins.
  • Flower: Dense axillary clusters with lavender-pink cymes on short stalks.
    Trunk/bark/branches: Multi-trunked, shade tolerant and with spreading branches. Stems ascending and spreading oppositely branched and young twigs light green.
  • Fruit: The berry is a drupe, purple to violet and particularly attractive in September and October. The showy fruit clusters encircle the entire stem at regular intervals starting in late summer and persist in early winter.
  • Propagation: As I have mentioned, seeds are bird-dispersed and this seeding is a major way the plant spreads. You can also propagate using semi-hardwood cuttings. This shrub often volunteers within its range, sometimes with such vigor that the species can be considered a pest.

In-Depth

American beautyberry has a coarse habit, large-toothed green to yellow-green oval-shaped leaves that turn chartreuse in the fall. Small lilac flowers appear in late summer, and for the next several months, the fruit, which grows in clusters around the stem, ripen to vibrant purple color. This woody shrub reaches 3-8 tall and is native to the southeast, where it will grow best in moist areas but can also withstand drought.

In the landscape, you can prune American beautyberry if it grows too lanky. Pruning actually makes a very pretty plant. Cut it back to within 4 to 6 of the ground in early spring as it flowers and fruits on new wood. To make more beautyberries, take softwood cuttings, place them in the sand and keep moist. Cuttings should root in one to two weeks.

This plant can tolerate extremes of heat and cold, it is very rarely bothered by insects or diseases and will live in most soils. Beautyberry can stand partial shade but is at its best in full sun if provided ample moisture. It will also be denser and more fruitful in the sun. American Beautyberry looks best planted in masses and is especially beautiful under pine trees or placed in a shrub border.

By late summer and autumn, the flowers give rise to berry-like drupes in striking metallic shades of magenta and violet in the fall. The beautyberries are packed tightly together in clusters that encircle the stem. A variety called "lactea" has white fruits.