American Beautyberry: Purple Now
Other Names: Dwarf Mulberry, Beautybush, Filigree, French Mulberry, Beautyberry
Introduction: Purple berries clinging around stems with bright green foliage make Callicarpa americana stand out from late summer to winter. It is easy to see how beautyberry got its common name. Don’t let its looks fool you though; Callicarpa is more than just eye candy. Callicarpa americana is useful medicinally and as food for wildlife and people. American Beautyberry is not fussy about location, soil or light requirements. This tough plant is an American Beauty in every sense of the word. Its name comes from Greek: Kalli, means beautiful; Karpos means fruit.
Historic Medicinal Uses:
Native Americans had many uses for beautberry, both internally and externally. According to Taylor (1940), Native Americans used beautyberry externally as a steam and topical application. All parts of the plants were used for different purposes Roots, leaves, and berries became the base for various teas and decoctions created to treated a wide variety of common aliments. It was also used for ceremonial activities.
Crushed berries were rubbed on the skin to repel mosquitoes. In modern times, farmers and ranchers in Texas applied the berries and leaves to cattle and horses in order to repel flies. A study by Kinghorn (2008) confirms that Callicarpa Americana does have mosquito bite deterrent actions. Callicarpa leaves contain terpenoids that repel fire ants according to a recent study by Chen, Cantrell, Duke, and Allen (2008).
Other ethno botanical uses: Native Americans used Callicarpa americana for ceremonial uses. William Bartram recorded Native Americans cultivating Callicarpa americana in Georgia and Northeast Florida during his botanical expeditions of the 1740s. The plant has been use to produce dye and fish poison.
Austin documents that traditional uses of related Mexican species include making of rafters and supports for bean vines.
Today we enjoy beautyberry for its other wonderful features: berries, delicate flowers, drought resistance and value to wildlife. And now is the time! Go out into any natural area, or any neighborhood where people are savvy about native plants, and you will behold the amazing beautyberry in all its glory. The berries, which you may see at almost any time of year, are coming into their peak season right now sporting brilliant red to magenta swirls of tightly clustered little globes.
Beautyberry occurs naturally over a wide portion of the southeastern United States, which, as you might deduce, means that it is highly tolerant of a variety of conditions. It likes to pop up at the forest edges where it gets plenty of light with a bit of shade. Beautyberry is an"easy keeper." Once established, it is very drought tolerant, but does need good drainage. If left on its own it reaches heights of 5 to 9 feet, frequently as wide as it is high. The natural shape is something of a mound form with gracefully arching branches. Beautyberry also can be planted in amongst other shrubs where it will stretch up and out to reach light.
Callicarpa, berries on ends, stretching up in with serenoa repens, necklace pod and gumbo limbo.
The flower bloom occurs most typically from mid spring to mid summer; in white, pale pink, lavender, violet; short lived flowers; small; whirled clusters called cymes. They are very attractive to butterflies.
Callicarpa is easy to propagate from hardwood cuttings or seed. In fact birds scatter the seed everywhere! It is not hard at all, though, to pull up seedlings if they are dropped where you don't want one. If planting seeds, remove the fleshy part and scarify the seed. Highly recommended plant!
Pat Bratianu PhD RN