In recent years, the idea of using native plants has swept through the gardening world.
Native plants are adapted to our climate; they are equipped to handle our severe fluctuations in rainfall and they are great for attracting wildlife. But, most importantly, native plants provide a sense of place. These are the plants that let you know you are in the South.
One native that stands out among the others at this time of year is the American beautyberry or Callicarpa americana.
This native shrub puts off an incredible show of purple clustered berries in late August through November. First the shrub flowers, then berries occur in the axils, the area located where the leaf stalk connects to the branch.
The beautyberry blooms throughout the summer with clusters of pink to purplish flowers, which really offer no significant landscape value. However, once the flowers are pollinated and the berries form, this native shrub becomes the belle of the ball.
This highly attractive shrub can be found growing naturally at a woodland’s edge. So when gardeners incorporate beautyberry into their home landscape, they should choose an area that gets some sun and some shade. There's no soil preparation needed to grow this tough shrub, which may come as a relief to some gardeners. This shrub can grow in poor soil conditions, such as thick clay to sandy or rocky soils as well as highly acid areas and thin, infertile soils. Even though you don't have to amend the soil, it is still always good practice to have your soil tested before planting.
The beautyberry can grow rather large quickly, easily reaching 10 feet. One notable characteristic of this shrub is that it blooms on the current year’s wood. That means if the shrub grows too tall for your landscape, you can prune back severely in late winter, even to the ground if necessary. The following spring, the beautyberry will put on new growth and will bloom from those stems.
The beautiful purple berries don’t last very long, as they play an important role for birds in the autumn. Because our fall dry period occurs the same time the plant has berries, birds will use beautyberry as a water source. More than 40 songbirds can be found feeding on beautyberry, including catbirds, cardinals and mockingbirds.
Callicarpa includes many cultivars and other species, but they are often difficult to find in garden centers. A cultivar called Bok Tower is a green-foliage shrub with white berries. Another cultivar, Duet, has variegated foliage in combination with attractive white berries. Other selections include Bonner Creek and Purple Pearls, a weeping purple berry and even a variety with striking pink berries.
Check local garden centers for availability or collect seeds this time of year from a friend to incorporate into your gardening area. So long as you don’t mind sharing with the birds, the Callicarpa species work in tandem with the rest of your landscape to bring fabulous fall color to the garden.
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