Prolific berries of Early Amethyst in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Prolific berries of Early Amethyst (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Commonly known as beautyberry, the genus Callicarpa was derived from the Greek words ‘callos’ meaning beauty and ‘carpos’ meaning fruit.  And what a stunning fruit it is; a purple-violet-fuschia profusion of tiny beaded clusters that look more like decorative desert toppings than anything nature could produce.  Yet, this supernatural color flaunts itself on the native American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, Japanese Beautyberry, callicarpa japonica, Chinese Bodinier’s Beautyberry, Callicarpa bodinieri and lastly, Purple Beautyberry, Callicarpa dichotoma, which reigns from both China and Japan. 

Colorful berries of Callicarpa Americana in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Colorful berries of Callicarpa Americana (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Callicarpa is a deciduous shrub that grows to 6′ tall and wide, but averages around 4′ in Northern U.S. gardens.  Native Callicarpa americana is zoned 6-9, while the Japanese and Chinese callicarpa are zoned 5-8, and all prefer full sun to moderate shade exposure.  Most will die back substantially over the winter (in colder climates), requiring a hard pruning (to 12-24 inches) in the early spring.  Sometimes I will wait to see if there is any new growth on the stems, but usually it is so sparse that pruning close to the ground is just easier.  Because beautyberry blooms on new wood, the hard pruning need not be of any concern.  And spring pruning is the only chore with beautyberry, so the rest of the year is carefree.

Early Amethyst and Americana Beautyberry in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Early Amethyst (foreground) and Americana Beautyberry (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Differences in the individual cultivars are subtle; all have the colorful berries, but each has its own specific distinctions like form, leaf size and density of berry groupings.  I grow two Callicarpa americanas, which have a larger leaf, more upright form and slightly less showy berry display.  I planted a purple beautyberry, Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Early Amethyst’ in amongst the native callicarpas to provide a horizontal growth form and significantly brighter exhibit that starts reliably in September, and lasts until the animals consume the fruit in winter.  In my zone 5 garden, the fruit of americana is later, subject to frost and often less consistent.  If a dazzling berry expo is what you’re after, and you’re in a colder climate, you will probably be better off selecting the dependable ‘Early Amethyst’ over the native callicarpa.  Or do what I do, have a few of each.

Vibrant berries of Early Amethyst in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The vibrant berries of Early Amethyst (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

All of the berries are eaten by birds and other critters, but the berries on the native American Beautyberry are said to be sweet and can be used in jellies.  The leaves have been used as an insect repellant, and the roots and leaves are said to have medicinal applications for stomach ailments.  As for me, the beautyberry’s minimal care requirements and show-stopping fall fruit pageant are more than enough reason to grow it.  Look for one at your local nursery and decide if callicarpa is worthy of a spot in your garden as well.

** For other berries adored by birds visit: FOR THE BIRDS 

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A Garden for All