It’s easy to understand how American beautyberry got its common name—graceful, arching branches with large, velvety leaves flaunt showy clusters of iridescent, magenta fruits from fall into winter, long after the yellow leaves have dropped. It grows 3 to 5 feet tall and wide in full or part sun and in a wide range of well-drained soils. It may temporarily lose its leaves and developing fruits during periods of prolonged summer drought until it becomes established. Growth and fruiting are maximized when the shrub is sited in moist, rich soil near other beautyberries. Its loose and open form is ideal for displaying the glossy, purple berries, which are favored by over 40 species of birds and many small mammals. While it can be left alone to become a tall woody shrub, the old canes may be pruned to the base to encourage more-compact growth and to encourage additional flowers and fruit.
Native habitats include moist woods and thickets, open meadows, wet slopes, rich bottomlands, coastal plains, and swamp edges. Beautyberry works well as a screen in swampy or wooded areas and is useful in reclamation work and erosion control. In residential landscapes, it excels in mass plantings and as a back-of-the-border plant. It’s also suitable for landscape edges, pollinator and native gardens, and sites under shade trees.
Grows 3-5’ tall and wide. Grows up to 9’ in ideal conditions.
Prefers full to part sun.
Prefers moist, rich soils, but tolerates other well-drained soils, including sandy, loamy, clay, and acidic.
Small blue, white, or pink flowers appear in dense clusters where the leaves meet the stem in June and July.
Purple fruits--¼” long and containing 2-4 seeds each--grow in clusters that encircle the stems. This defining characteristic sets it apart from the non-native Asian beautyberry, whose berries are on short stalks (see second photo of berries above).
Medium-green leaves are 3-6” long, ovate to elliptic, with serrated margins and woolly undersides. They turn yellow in fall and drop in September or October.
The smooth bark of the multi-stemmed trunk develops ridged, corky areas and is reddish brown on younger wood and light brown on older wood. Long, slender stems may be rounded or four sided.
Host plant for the larvae of snowberry clearwing, cranberry spanworm, and rustic sphinx moths. The flowers provide nectar for pollinators from spring into summer. The seeds and berries are important foods for over 40 species of birds, especially northern bobwhites, robins, mockingbirds, woodpeckers, and finches. Foxes, opossums, squirrels, and raccoons also eat the fruits.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Native Americans used the roots, leaves, and branches to treat malarial fevers and rheumatism. The roots were used to treat dizziness, stomachaches, and dysentery. Roots and berries were boiled and made into a drink to treat colic.
Crushed leaves produce two compounds--callicarpenal and intermedeol--that act as mosquito repellent. In the early 1900s, farmers placed crushed leaves under the harnesses of horses, and people also rubbed the leaves on their skin to repel biting insects.
The berries are often used to make jellies and wines. Raw berries are edible, although they should be consumed in small amounts as some people have reported stomachaches after eating the berries.
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