Hi, I am Millie Davenport, a horticulture extension agent with the Clemson University Home and Garden Information Center.
Today we are looking at the American Beautyberry.
Today we are here in the South Carolina Botanical Gardens and we are looking at one of my favorite native plants. This is the American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana. The American Beautyberry is native to the southern region of the United States as well as into Mexico and into the West Indies. By looking at the plant, you can tell where this common name “Beautyberry” comes from, from this magnificent show of fruit. Now, the genus name Callicarpa does mean beautiful fruit as well. The American Beautyberry is a deciduous shrub, which means it is going to lose its foliage in the fall and reemerge with new growth the following spring. The new leaves when they come out are going to be a nice medium green color, they will reach up to 3 ½ to 6 inches long in length, and they are opposite one another on the branches as you can see here. The American Beautyberry has somewhat of a coarse texture to it, and it has kind of a somewhat upright habit with a loose structure to it. And, these really beautiful arching branches that come down. The Beautyberry does have a moderate growth rate, it can reach up to about 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide, but that of course, is depending on the growing conditions.
In the early summer months, the American Beautyberry will produce these really small, inconspicuous, not showy flowers. Now, by the end of the summer, late summer or early fall, you get these beautiful magenta berries that form from the flowers. The berries themselves are about ¼ inch in diameter individually, but they are in large clusters on the stem. And the clusters themselves can measure up to 1 ½ inches in diameter. The clusters do encircle all the way around the stem and they and they occur right where the nodes are, which is where your leaves are located. So, at each leaf location, you have a cluster of berries. The berries on the American Beautyberry can last well into winter, but, if the birds find them first, more than likely they are not going to last that long. The berries of the Callicarpa americana straight species are these nice violet, magenta color. Now, there is a variety of the species, it is called ‘Lactea’. It has these really nice, white berries. ‘Lactea’ means milk or Milky Way.
Now, if you decide that you need to prune the American Beautyberry in your landscape, you do have to consider the flowering time. With the American Beautyberry, the best time to prune is going to be late winter or early spring. And, the reason for that is because this plant produces its flowers and its fruit on the new growth that will be coming that year. Now, at that time you can do a renewal type of pruning, and with that you are going to cut this plant drastically back to about 1 foot in height. With the renewal pruning cut, you are going to get a lot more new growth from the plant. And, since the flowers and fruit produce themselves on the new growth, you are going to get a much showier plant that year.
Now, with all that said, the renewal pruning or any type of pruning is not necessary on the American Beautyberry to have a nice production of fruit each year. In fact, here at the SCBG, they hardly ever prune their American Beautyberry plants. They do wait until pruning is needed to help rejuvenate the plants. So, they don’t do it each year, they just wait. This particular plant has been cut back; you can tell if you look deeper into the plant, you will find where the shoots have been cut back. But, they don’t tend to cut them back as drastically as we just mentioned with the renewal pruning. And, you see that we still have this really nice beautiful show of fruit on the plant.
Now, with this native plant, you get the benefit of these gorgeous berries as well as the fact that it is drought tolerant and able to adapt to various types of soils. However, it does prefer a wooded location, like we have here where it is going to get partial sun and have a moist well-drained soil.
The American Beautyberries’ vibrant fruit display is a great way to add fall interest to the landscape.