Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Beautyberry: Not just for berries!

I've known about the beautyberry plant (Callicarpa americana) for a long time, but I've never grown one until recently. Beautyberry, as you might guess from its name, is grown for its unusual, ornamental berries that ripen in late summer and persist into fall. This picture was taken several years ago in Bill Ferrell's garden by Julie Morgan.
Owner: Bill Ferrell

Jack and I discovered a beautyberry in our garden last fall, obviously planted by some bird because it was growing so close to the fence in our backyard. Or maybe our neighbor had one at some time in her yard on the other side of the fence. In any case, we recognized it by its bright purple/blue berries and decided that we could try to dig it out and give it some space. 

When spring came this year, I wasn't sure it had survived the move. Then a single branch leafed out and more branches came out from the root. Now it has made a fairly decent-looking little shrub.
Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

On closer inspection, I realized it was covered with buds and airy little flowers. This should not have been a surprise (where there are berries, there must have been flowers) but it was. A very nice surprise! The buds looked like little pink berries.

 And the flowers were lovely--delicate, airy little things. It made me feel happy just to see them.

The beautyberry in fruit has a wow factor. It's bright berries come as a shock that knocks your socks off from quite a distance away. The beautyberry in bloom is just as fabulous, just in a different way. It needs to be appreciated close up and personal. Go check out yours now if you have one. 

If don't have a beautyberry, you might consider it as an addition to your garden. According to the USDA plant database, beautyberry likes moist, loamy soil and grows best in a light shade. More sun equals more berries, but the plant requires more water in a sunnier environment. Ours grows quite well in a considerable amount of shade and a lot of benign neglect. Also, remember to give it some room to grow. In optimal conditions it can get quite large (6 ft or more tall and wide) but it responds well to pruning. 

Clicking on this link will give you more information on beautyberry, including medicinal and practical uses of the plant, for instance using the crushed leaves to repel mosquitoes and other biting bugs. I haven't tried it as an insect repellent yet, but the next time I'm in the garden, I will. How handy would that be to have an organic insect repellent at your fingertips!

So now that I've discovered that the beautyberry has a lovely bloom (are all you gardeners out there saying "duh!") as well as beautiful fall berries, I'm now thinking of it as a multi-season plant. Add to that the beautyberry's practical use as a mosquito repellent and I'm beginning to think think that I've been so under-appreciating this plant! I'm so glad we rescued it.

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