Friday, September 13, 2013

American Beautyberry

American Beautyberry: Callicarpa Americana

I first planted this shrub in my central Florida home after I fell in love with the striking berries….it did not like it there. I planted Callicarpa dicotoma ‘Early Amethyst’ in my Georgia home where it thrived but the berries were not as vibrant. A fellow Master Gardener invited me to her Wadmalaw Island home to dig some from her yard. Together we dug up 4 in the fall of 2004 and I grew them in pots until I could plant them in my new home in South Carolina. All four have done very well and I added two more. One that came up in my yard from seed I’m guessing and another seedling I got from Cypress Gardens. All have thrived this summer and are full of berries. They seemed to have benefited from the early summer rains.

As it turns out the berries are also a favorite food of wildlife. I didn’t originally plant them for wildlife but they have become a food source for my wildlife habitat. As it turns out the Beautyberry is a squirrel’s idea of takeout food! They have been seen breaking off a branch as long as 1-2 feet long and carry it off to a tall tree to enjoy. For several years the only time I’d see a Mockingbird in my yard was when they were eating the blueberries I planted for them or when the Beautyberries were ripe. Until this year I’d never had a bumper crop of berries and all would be gone in a matter of 3 days! Humans are not as enthusiastic. The berries are slightly astringent and best eaten raw only a few at a time.

If wildlife will leave the shrub alone it produces an abundance of very showy clusters of purple or white berries in late summer and early fall. I didn’t list the varieties that produce white berries but they are available. I like the purple best! The flowers are small lavender-pink in color, followed by green berries June – August. They berries start turning purple in late August as they mature. Beautyberry is deciduous and the leaves turn light chartreuse before falling off in the fall. The clusters of showy berried persist into late fall (if the birds don’t find them).

Plant Information:

• American beautyberry (C. americana) is a native woodland plant in the warmer areas of the southeastern states; it is considered hardy in Zones 7-11. Three Asian species, C. japonica from Japan, and C. dichotoma and C. bodinieri from China, are cultivated and are considered to have more tolerance to cold (Zones 5-8).
• American beautyberry and Japanese beautyberry grow 4 to 6 feet tall and wide, but can reach 8 to10 feet under favorable growing conditions. Generally, these shrub species develop a rounded shape with long, arching branches and light green foliage. I found Callicarpa dicotoma to be slightly smaller in size reaching only about 3-5 feet in height and width.
• Plant them in a natural woodland setting under tall shade trees or as an informal hedge along the perimeter of a property.
• A long-lived shrub that grows at a moderate rate depending on species and conditions. Ideally the soil should be fertile, loose and well drained, though it will tolerate most soil conditions. Usually found in areas with light to moderate shade, but for maximum flowering and berry production they can grow in full sun when adequate moisture is provided.
• Beautyberries prefer at least an inch of rain (or equivalent watering) each week, although they can endure short periods of drought. Beautyberry generally doesn't need pruning; the shrub has an open form, and branches naturally hang down when weighted with berries. Beautyberry generally has few pest problems.

Dr. Julia Morton, a famed research professor of biology at the University of Miami said this about the Beauty Berry in her book ‘Wild Plants for Survival in South Florida:” “The rank odor of the plant makes nibbling of [berry] bunches on the stem unpleasant.”

American beautyberry has been used as a folk remedy to prevent mosquito bites. There are three chemicals in the leaves scientists are trying to replicate for mosquito repellent. They may be as effective as DEET, according to researchers with the USDA. The chemicals, particularly one called callicarpenal, showed significant bite-deterring activity against the yellow-fever mosquito and the mosquito that spreads malaria. Callicarpenal and other compounds isolated from the plant also repelled fire ants and ticks.

Native Indians had many uses for the Beautyberry, among them: A decoction of the root bark as a diuretic; the leaves for dropsy; a tea from the roots for dysentery and stomach aches; A tea made from the roots and berries for colic; and, the leaves and roots in sweat baths for the treatment of malaria, rheumatism and fevers.

I just love them for the beautiful berries and easy care!