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Gardening 101: Beautyberry

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Gardening 101: Beautyberry

December 6, 2018

Beautyberry, Callicarpa

Beautyberry’s colorful berries are a psychedelic antidote for anyone dreading the dullness of the winter to come. As the year’s days shrink and nights grow long, this shrub which has remained in the anonymous green shadows of the summer garden (after a brief flirtation of small pink flowers) suddenly takes center stage. Stripped of its leaves by the cold, the long branches of beautyberry are now brilliant with electric lilac berries growing in tight clusters.

Read on to learn about the benefits of beautyberry bushes and how to grow this low-maintenance shrub.

Photography by Marie Viljoen, except where noted.

While there are dozens of species of Callicarpa—the genus to which beautyberries belong—the one we recommend planting on its home continent is a North American native, Callicarpa americana.
Above: While there are dozens of species of Callicarpa—the genus to which beautyberries belong—the one we recommend planting on its home continent is a North American native, Callicarpa americana.
Fruit begins to set in summer while a beautyberry shrub is in full foliage, and gradually turns a bright, neon violet.
Above: Fruit begins to set in summer while a beautyberry shrub is in full foliage, and gradually turns a bright, neon violet.
The vibrant berries are even safe to eat: While not remarkable in flavor (they taste a little like a mild version of the Middle Eastern spice mahlab), they add  gorgeous color to jellies and infused drinks.
Above: The vibrant berries are even safe to eat: While not remarkable in flavor (they taste a little like a mild version of the Middle Eastern spice mahlab), they add  gorgeous color to jellies and infused drinks.
Photograph by Mark Ahlness, via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Mark Ahlness, via Flickr.

Birds love beautyberry, too, and the shrubs will feed resident and migrating populations in winter.

Beautyberry in late fall light by Marie Viljoen

Cheat Sheet

  • For the best fruit display, plant shrubs in full sun (six hours-plus)
  • Cross-pollination results in copious fruit production, so plant in groups of two or more for optimal results
  • Backlighting is your friend; if possible plant where the setting or rising sun will make the berries glow
  • Cut branches keep their berries for a long time; add them to holiday displays and wreaths
  • C. americana has tight clusters of fruit with no visible stems. Asian species have small but visible stems.

Keep It Alive

  • Plant beautyberry in ordinary soil and water deeply until established
  • Beautyberry tolerates clay soil, acid or alkaline pH, and requires only good drainage
  • Callicarpa americana is hardy in USDA growing zones 7 to 10, and possibly in zone 6 (mulch well in winter)

Read more growing tips in Beautyberry: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated Garden Design 101 guides to Shrubs. See more:

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