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Beautyberry Shrubs

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Photo of beautyberry bush in fall.

Photo of beautyberry bush in fall.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Beautyberry Shrubs:

Plant taxonomy classifies beautyberry shrubs (sometimes misspelled as "beauty berry") as Callicarpa. The species with which I am concerned, mainly, in the present article is Callicarpa dichotoma or "purple beautyberry shrub," a popular cultivar of which is 'Early Amethyst.'

Plant Type for Callicarpa Dichotoma:

Callicarpa dichotoma plants are deciduous flowering shrubs.

Characteristics of Beautyberry Shrubs:

Beautyberry shrubs grow up to 4 feet tall, with a slightly greater spread. The arching branches bear pinkish to light purple flowers in summer, which mature into their signature light purple berries in autumn (although the albafructus variety produces white berries). The fall foliage of Callicarpa dichotoma is yellow. However, in my zone 5 landscape, I've found that a frost can cause leaf color to pass from green to brownish, skipping the intermediate yellow altogether. The brownish leaves greatly detract from the display of the berries, the more mature of which aren't damaged by frost.

Planting Zones for Beautyberry Shrubs:

Callicarpa dichotoma is native to the Far East. It can be grown in planting zones 5-8. A beautyberry bush indigenous to North America (southeastern U.S.) is Callicarpa americana.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Purple Beautyberry Shrubs:

If you choose a spot with well-drained soil, then purple beautyberry shrubs should perform well for you whether in full sun or partial shade.

Outstanding Characteristic of Purple Beautyberry Shrubs:

The outstanding characteristic of beautyberry shrubs is, no doubt, their berries, as their name suggests! Not only are the berries a beautiful light purple color, but they also persist into winter, affording winter interest to human eyes starved for color in snowy regions. The purple berries remain attractive into early winter but may show signs of shriveling and discoloration by mid-winter. By late winter the berries may attract hungry wild birds.

Wildlife Attracted to Purple Beautyberry Shrubs:

Wild birds benefit from Callicarpa berries, too. The birds treat these berries as they do bittersweet berries, for instance; i.e., as an emergency food source, after all their preferred berry sources have been exhausted. Bees and butterflies are also attracted to my Callicarpa dichotoma.

Uses for Purple Beautyberry Shrubs:

Due to their remarkable berry display, beautyberry shrubs are striking enough to be used individually, as specimen plants. All the more reason to grow several of them in a border: the more the merrier! Multiple plantings also ensure better berry production.

Care for Purple Beautyberry Shrubs:

Since beautyberry shrubs bloom on new wood, they are generally pruned (for shaping, if desired) in late winter. In fact, at the northern end of their range (zone 5), they are often treated as herbaceous perennials, by cutting them to within 1 foot of the ground each year just before spring.

Beautyberry Shrubs: Name Origin, Confusion With "Beautybush":

Don't confuse beautyberry shrubs with "beautybush" (or "beauty bush"). The latter is a larger plant, and its scientific name is Kolkwitzia amabilis.

In comparing scientific and common names for this plant, we find an instance where the one signifies the other. For Callicarpa is composed of two Greek roots, signifying "beautiful" and "fruit." Meanwhile, the specific epithet, dichotoma is also Greek, meaning, "cut in pairs" -- probably a reference to the way the berry clusters line the branches in pairs (see picture, above right).



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