American beautyberry is putting on a great display as we head into fall. It’s a great Louisiana native shrub that deserves increased use, says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Allen Owings.
“These plants have abundant fruit production in the fall, and with their wildlife benefit, they fit well into a woodland garden setting,” he says.
Native Americans used the roots, leaves and branches for medicinal purposes. Berries are a food source for songbirds as well as small mammals. Deer eat the fruit and leaves in fall and summer when other preferred forage is lacking.
Beautyberry plants are deciduous but have three nice seasons of interest, Owings says. In spring, the plants have small, pink flowers in the leaf axils of paired leaves. The flowers are usually inconspicuous unless you really pay attention to your plants every week.
In summer, the foliage is rich green and provides a nice background hedge for flowering perennials and other shrubs.
The beautyberry provides a real show in fall. Bright berries are shiny and purple and appear in clusters at the leaf nodes all along the arching stems.
The purple berries appear to have a metallic quality when sunlight reflects off them. Sometimes the berries persist well into winter, but many times they are consumed by birds and wildlife.
You can find American beautyberry plants for sale in local nurseries now, says AgCenter horticulturist Dan Gill.
If you purchase one, Gill advises to leave it in the pot for now and wait to plant it later in October when the weather is more suitable.
American beautyberry grows 6- to 8-feet tall with an equal spread. The plant is winter-hardy. Some terminal stem dieback may occur in the coldest winters, but pruning out dead wood when new growth begins in spring will solve that problem.
It’s a good practice to prune plants a little during late winter to early spring to control plant size and direct growth.
Beautyberry has a loose and open habit. Gill calls it a “casual plant” rather than formal.
One plant can be attractive, but a grouping of three to five creates an appealing cluster. The plants cross-pollinate to ensure the fullest fruit production.
Beautyberry tolerates dry soil conditions and partial shade, but the healthiest plants and best fruit production happen in full sun. Be sure to maintain consistent soil moisture for best performance.
Got a gardening question? Write to GardenNews@agcenter.lsu.edu.