The distinctively beautiful beautyberries persist on the shrub for months providing food for wildlife and looking pretty for people. Click to download a large (800x600) version of this image.
American beautyberry is an outstanding deciduous shrub that grows 6-8 ft (1.8-2.4 m) tall with a loose, open form and outward pointing branches. This shrub makes a coarse appearance large toothed green to yellow-green leaves 6-8 in (15-20 cm) long and pubescent beneath. In springtime, tiny lilac flowers appear. These are held in clusters called cymes that arise from the leaf axils (where the leaf joins the stem). By autumn the flowers give rise to berrylike 1/4 in (0.6 cm) drupes in striking metallic shades of magenta and violet in the fall. The beautyberries are packed tightly together in clusters that encircle the stem. Variety lactea has white fruits.
American beautyberry occurs naturally from Maryland, south to Florida, and southwesterly into Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas. It also grows in Mexico, Bermuda, the Bahamas and Cuba. It inhabits relatively open, well drained, rich woodlands and dry hammocks.
Very adaptable, even to low fertility soils. Light: Broken shade is optimal. Moisture: Very drought tolerant. Requires well drained soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6-10. Propagation: Seeds and semi-hardwood cuttings. This shrub often volunteers within its range, sometimes with such vigor as to be regarded as a weed species.
The beautyberry's beautiful little lilac flowers appear in late spring and early summer. Click to download a large (800x600) version of this image.
Use beautyberry for massing or individually in woodland plantings. Great for low maintenance natural gardens where it contributes year round beauty and food for wildlife. Spring flowers and beautiful fall fruit make this an attractive landscape plant. Use it in semi-shade under tall pines or in full sun where foliage will take on a not unattractive yellow-green color that combines interestingly with the brilliant violet fruits.
The colorful berries last long into winter and are eaten by a variety of birds. They don't seem to be the most delicious foodsource around though, at my place in North Florida they tend not to be eaten until late winter when they are all shriveled into beautyberry raisins.!
In its native range the American beautyberry reseeds and spreads so readily that it is considered a pesky weed by some. Each year I eradicate most of the hundreds of seedlings that appear but always allow a few to take hold to enjoy the stunning autumn colors or purple, green and gold. Click to download a large (800x600) version of this image.
American beautyberry has some cousins that are also used as garden plants in Zones 5-8. Japanese beautyberry (C. japonica) and Bodinier beautyberry (C. bodinieri are very similar in appearance to American beautyberry. My favorite though, is purple beautyberry (C. dichotoma) which has a finer texture and more graceful form. Best of all the leaves are held in a single plane that makes a much more attractive presentation of the plant's ultra-violet fruits. When I visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden one October, I came across a beautiful planting of several species and varieties of beautyberry right at the front gate and they looked fabulous and I've been a beautyberry booster ever since.