Who can resist a plant called beautyberry? Even their scientific name, Callicarpa, means “beautiful seeded,” and these plants really live up to their name. In fall, the fruit is a magnificent metallic purple – an absolutely unbeatable color that looks great in the garden or cut for fall arrangements.
The large, purple fruit of American beautyberry creates an amazing fall display.
Photo Credit: Lane Greer
Purple beautyberry bears purple fruit on arching stems.
Photo Credit: Lane Greer
American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), also known as French mulberry, is native to the Southeast and hardy in USDA zones 7-10. You can see the Hardiness Zone map on the USDA site.) Clusters of large, purple fruit encircle the stem at each node (the place on the stem where the leaves are attached). Although you can find American beautyberry growing in the wild, garden-grown plants outperform them. There is also a white-fruited form, sometimes called white beautyberry (Callicarpa americana var. lactea). American beautyberry is incredibly easy to grow and drought-tolerant. The flowers are nothing to shout about – they’re a pale pink-purple and are borne in early summer. But this excellent shrub grows fast and bears attractive fruit on new wood, so it can be cut back to the ground in early spring. The plant grows 5-10 feet tall, depending on location and amount of summer watering.
The fruit of purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) is the same great color as the berries of American beautyberry, but it’s smaller and held above the leaves. Purple beautyberry is also more cold-hardy, surviving in zones 5-8, and works better in smaller spaces, since it only grows about 4 feet tall. There’s a white form that’s also called white beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma f. albifructa) and two well-known cultivars, ‘Issai’ and ‘Early Amethyst’ (a cultivar is an improved plant form). ‘Issai’ is an excellent plant that fruits heavily, even when young, and has long, arching stems. The fruit of ‘Early Amethyst’ changes from green to lilac early in the fall.
Japanese beautyberry (Callicarpa japonica) grows about as tall as purple beautyberry – about 4 feet. This plant sometimes sets less fruit than the other beautyberries, but it may be better for small spaces in the garden. ‘Leucocarpa’ is the white-fruited form.
All beautyberries need to be placed in full or part sun for best fruit color, and they’re virtually pest-free. Interestingly, the plants should not be fertilized, since this increases leaf production but decreases fruit production.
As a child, I found that beautyberries made my mud pies spectacular – be sure to tell your kids about them!