The American beautyberry, otherwise called the common names of French Mulberry and beautyberry, is a perennial, deciduous shrub. These native plants to South America, Central America, and the Southeastern United States thrive in hardiness zones 5-11.
Callicarpa americana, (c. americana) its scientific name, means beautiful fruit, thus the name beautyberry. It usually grows from 4 – 6 feet tall. However, in ideal conditions, such as a natural woodland setting, it can reach 8 – 10 feet tall.
These shrubs are great for mass plantings or as the focal point of your garden setting. Its colorful clusters of purple berries put on a showy display and work well in a butterfly garden.
This shrub is one of the easiest edible plants to grow with the least amount of issues from diseases and pests. This post will teach you how to start, grow, care for, and prune this wonderful bush.
Growing Conditions of the American Beautyberry
The American beautyberry shrub prefers full sun but does do well in partial shade. It prefers rich, moist soil but can be drought-tolerant too. This plant does extremely well if you add a layer of bark mulch around the base.
The watering level required is around an inch per week. If the climate is extremely dry, you may need to offer some water a bit more frequently.
It does not require much fertilizer. Actually, fertilizer is not really necessary at all. You can add some organic matter though when transplanting, or when planting for the first time. Beautyberry bushes thrive on the forest floor as the ground is filled with organic matter.
Beautyberry blooms in late spring through mid to late summer. The blooms are small pink flowers that eventually become clusters of bright purple berries that are an important food source for local species of birds.
The showy berries that start as clusters of green berries before turning into magenta fruits arrive around late August. The berries will continue for 6 weeks or longer after the leaves fall and well into the winter months.
The American beautyberry will only produce berries on new growth so some pruning is necessary. After the berries are done in late winter, either prune lightly or to about a foot above the ground.
In some places, the shrub may die back to the ground, but don’t worry. In the spring it will come back bigger and better than the year before.
Beautyberry shrubs can be started from seed or from cuttings. But keep in mind that the beautyberry is a great self-sower. Before you know it, there will be many more plants from the one you started with.
Birds eat the berries and when dropping their waste, drop seeds too. Those seeds seem to take to where they land pretty well. This is why you will see many bushes throughout the zones that beautyberry grows in.
To collect your own seeds, collect past ripe berries. Remove the seeds. There will be 1 seed per berry. Rinse and store in the refrigerator over winter.
In early spring, sow the seeds 1/4″ deep in small pots. Use a seed starting mix and keep the soil damp at all times. Germination takes place in about 2 – 3 weeks.
Once germinated, place in a sunny location and keep watered. Transplant to a bigger pot in fall for indoor growing the first year. Plant in the ground the following year.
You can also plant your transplants right in the ground in the fall of the same year.
To start a beautyberry with softwood cuttings, simply cut some stems about 6 – 8 inches long in late winter. Dip about 3 inches of the end of each stem in rooting powder. Stick the cuttings in containers of wet soil.
Keep your containers outside and keep moist. Roots will be established by spring. In early fall, the cuttings can be transplanted directly in the ground or in larger containers in sunny locations.
Pests and Diseases
There are no serious pests or diseases that affect the beautyberry. This makes for a rewarding shrub with minimal headaches. However, if you have deer, beware. They love the taste of the berries! So it’s best to read up about them and their diet so that you know what you’re in for.
The American beautyberry attracts the American robin, cardinals, woodpeckers, and mockingbirds. Its purple fruit acts as a food source for these and other birds. So if attracting birds is your goal, this is your plant!
In some places, it is a host for the Carolina Mantis to lay its eggs safely. Don’t be surprised if you find some creepy crawlies when harvesting the berries. But don’t worry the insects you find are harmless to you and the plant usually.
Common Uses of American Beautyberry
In Central Texas and especially here in Central Florida, making beautyberry jelly is as common as sweet tea in the south and pierogies in the north. But jelly is not the only treat created from this plant!
Beautyberry tea, jam, pies, and syrup are also made from berry clusters from around early October through late November. You can get some great recipes in the post, Beautyberry Recipes You Need to Try.
Final Thoughts on American Beautyberry
Beautyberry has been around for a long time. The native Americans learned of its uses and have passed down their experience through the years. Now, with some favorable soil, good drainage, and some humid summers, you too can experience the joy of the purple beautyberry bush on your land.
Do you grow American beautyberries or other species of beautyberry on your land? Tell me about your experiences and share your recipes! In the meantime, for more gardening posts be sure to read Self-Reliant Gardening: An Essential Guide and Growing Herbs for Self-Reliance.