The fruits of the beautyberry shrub radiate from its branches like precious pearl necklaces. The beauty of this magnificent play of colors has long been discovered for the beautification of parks and gardens. And best of all, the beautyberry shrub is also easy to care for.
The botanical name of the beautyberry is Callicarpa. Depending on the species, it is native to the southeastern United States, China, Japan, or Korea.
The Bodinier’s beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri), for example, originates from the central and western regions of China. There it inhabits lowlands as well as altitudes of up to 11,000 ft (3,400 m).
The shrub is popular as an ornamental plant in public parks and private gardens.
Origin at a glance:
- Originates from the United States, China, Japan, and Korea.
- Inhabits lowlands and altitudes up to 11,000 ft (3,400 m).
- Cultivated as an ornamental plant in many parts of the world in temperate climates.
The beautyberry shows an upright growth with slightly sparse branching. It can grow 6 to 10 ft (2 to 3 m) tall in suitable locations and also stretches up to 8 ft (2.5 m) in width.
Its loose but richly branched shrubbery, apart from its high ornamental value, also makes it a quite effective privacy screen along property lines.
Growth characteristics in brief:
- Upright growth, sparse branching.
- Up to 6-10 ft (2-3 m) tall, 8 ft (2 m) wide.
- Loose, but view-protecting shrubbery.
The leaves of the beautyberry attach to the twig shoots with medium-length stems in opposite directions, which are downy-haired at the young tips.
They have an elliptical shape, pointed at the base and end of the stem with a gently serrated margin, and grow to about 2 to 7 inches (5 to 17 cm) long with a width of 1 to 4 inches (2 to 10 cm).
In fall, the deciduous leaves turn yellow to red-orange and fall off by winter.
The flowers of the beautyberry are also quite pretty, but of course, are outshined by the truly spectacular fruits. The inflorescences are cymose and stand axillary in a branched umbel around the shoots.
The individual, small, four-petaled flowers are light purple in color, from which the honey-yellow glands of the corollas, perched above, contrast like a head of foam.
Beautyberry flowers open from the end of June and remain until August. During this time, they are only too happy to be swarmed by bees, bumblebees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects.
Beautyberry flowers in short:
- Branched, axillary umbels.
- Small, single flowers in light purple with honey-yellow petal heads.
- Flowering from late June to August.
- Popular insect pasture.
After flowering, the fruits appear, which are so conspicuous and which also gave the shrub its name. They actually look almost like the small, colorful sugar pearls that are traditionally sold as confectionery, especially at fairs.
Like the flowers, the spherical fruits, which are about 4 mm in diameter, also appear in purple, but in a much stronger shade. They are clearly shiny, which reinforces the association with sweet sugar pearls.
They hang in clusters of 30 to 40 on the branches and usually delight the eye until December. This makes the fruit clusters particularly suitable for Christmas decorative arrangements, bouquets, and wreaths in kind.
For some birds, the fruits are also a valuable source of food in the colder days of the year that is drawing to a close.
Beautyberry fruits at a glance:
- Appear as shiny purple, small globular fruits in racemose clusters.
- Strongly resemble sugar pearls.
- Remain on the shrub until winter.
- Very pretty ingredient for natural decoration.
- Are gladly eaten by birds.
Which Location is Suitable for Beautyberry?
The beautyberry shrub prefers a sunny or semi-shady, sheltered location. It should be protected from the rough winds as much as possible, and therefore it is better to surround it with other hedge plants than to let it stand exposed.
It has medium demands on the soil: it thrives best in humic, rather loose soils that ensure good drainage and yet are evenly moist. The pH should preferably not go into the alkaline range.
Location requirements at a glance:
- Location as sunny and warm as possible.
- Well protected from rough winds.
- The soil should be humic, permeable, and rather slightly acidic than calcareous.
Is Beautyberry Winter Hardy?
The beautyberry is generally hardy, especially Bodinier’s beautyberry. So you don’t need to worry about your shrub even in freezing temperature times.
The situation is different for newly planted young specimens, though. They are still somewhat sensitive to frost, especially in their first winter.
If the first winter after planting turns out to be particularly cold and brings longer periods of severe frost temperatures, you should wrap the young shrub in burlap if necessary and cover the root area with fir branches.
- The beautyberry is generally very hardy.
- Protect newly planted young specimens in the first winter in severe frost temperatures.
Once a beautyberry is established in its location, you don’t really need to water it very much. At most, you can give the shrub a good watering once in a while during summer periods when it doesn’t rain for weeks.
Otherwise, regular watering is necessary only in the first period after planting a young shrub.
Separate addition of nutrients is also not necessary for the beautyberry. However, when planting, you can apply a long-term supply of gentle, organic fertilizer such as compost or horn shavings.
What is the Best Time to Plant Beautyberry?
As with most garden shrubs, the best time to plant a beautyberry is in the spring. Then it will have enough time to establish itself in its location and gather some strength before its first winter comes.
What Soil Does the Beautyberry Need?
To plant the shrub, dig a large planting hole and first fill it with a drainage layer of pebbles or clay granules.
Fill the main part with a sandy soil mixture enriched with leaf soil and horn shavings, insert the root ball and fill the planting hole completely.
Finally, a final covering layer of bark mulch is recommended to protect the root ball from drying out and from severe cold.
The Right Planting Distance for Beautyberry
A beautyberry shrub is certainly a decorative highlight in the garden in a solitary position. Nevertheless, there is something to be said for planting several specimens side by side as well.
Namely, because Callicarpa giraldii belongs to the cross-pollinators, you will also get more fruiting ornamentation when planting a group of several individuals.
When planting in rows, place the shrubs at a minimum distance of 6 ft (2 m) from each other.
Pruning is only necessary about every three years for the moderately fast-growing beautyberry. Otherwise, it may eventually look unkempt and become bald from the inside.
Prune in very early spring, around February or March. You can prune the shrub rather thoroughly. In any case, remove all old, dead branches and any shoots that are past their prime.
You can determine whether this is the case in the previous year by observing the berry growth and, if necessary, marking the shoots that are no longer so productive.
Otherwise, if some shoots are still visually disturbing due to an overlength, shorten those as well.
In the year of pruning, you must expect a less abundant flowering and fruiting, but the shrub will sprout all the more vigorously the following year.
Pruning rules in brief:
- Rejuvenating pruning about every three years.
- Pruning time is late winter/early spring.
- Cut off all old shoots and shoots that have outgrown their main fruiting period.
- Cut back branches that are too long to give them their shape.
Beautyberry in the Pot
If you are a big fan of the beautyberry but don’t have a garden to plant it in, you can certainly keep a specimen in a pot on your balcony or patio.
In this case, it is necessary to take into account similar considerations as in the case of outdoor planting. For example, you should be able to offer the shrub as sunny a location as possible in your outdoor area.
The substrate in the pot should be as rich in humus as possible and provided good drainage of clay granules or gravel.
Due to the smaller volume of the plant, you will of course have to water the shrub regularly, but waterlogging should be avoided at all costs. An occasional fertilizer in the form of a little compost in the spring is good for the shrub in the tub.
In winter, the beautyberry in the tub must be protected from the cold. Wrap the pot neatly with burlap or garden fleece and cover the top substrate layer with fir branches.
Beautyberries can be propagated in two main ways: by cuttings or by sowing.
For cuttings, cut young, not yet woody shoots about 12 to 16 inches (15 to 20 cm) long from the shrub in summer, preferably in July. Make sure that the shoot has at least two buds.
You can dip the lower cut end in rooting powder before planting. Put the cuttings prepared in this way into a planting container with growing soil, which you cover with foil.
Even better is a mini greenhouse, to provide an evenly humid and protected microclimate. The ambient temperature should not be too warm.
A new beautyberry shrub can also be grown from seed. This is possible throughout the year – however, in phases outside the natural germination period, pre-treatment in the form of a 24-hour soak or cold stratification is recommended.
In the latter method, the shells of the seeds are roughened by storing them and regularly circulating them in a fine peat-sand mixture that is as sterile as possible.
Place the seeds prepared in this way quite deep in a planting container with a sandy growing medium. Under a foil cover or the closing lid of a mini-greenhouse, it is best to keep the whole thing evenly moist.
Place the planter in a bright and warm place at about 68 °F (20 °C). After about 2-3 weeks, the seedlings should start to show.
Prick them out as soon as a pair of leaves appear. Plant out the seedlings after the first winter at the earliest.
Is Beautyberry Poisonous?
It is important to know, especially considering the soothing name: The tempting-looking berries of the beautyberry are not edible and are even slightly poisonous.
The fact that birds like to feast on them in winter might also give some people the idea of trying them themselves.
However, the berries contain substances that are toxic to humans. These include above all the terpenoids callicarpenal, spathulenol, and intermedeol.
In higher doses, they mainly trigger usual, natural excretion mechanisms by the body, such as nausea and vomiting. The substance borneol can also be a skin irritant.
However, there is hardly any serious risk of poisoning. Because of the strong bitter taste of the berries, hardly anyone will voluntarily consume the necessary amount. Nevertheless, caution is a good idea.
By far the most popular variety is Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’. Occasionally, however, other varieties are also available.
Callicarpa Bodinieri Var. Giraldii ‘Profusion’
This cultivar’s main attraction is its attractive fruiting stems. But the fall foliage color is also quite refreshing, as are the umbel flowers with their attractive color combination of the delicate purple of the flowers and the honey yellow of the petal glands.
This is also the main distinguishing feature from the other Callicarpa species.
The flowers appear in summer from the end of June, and the berries then begin to ripen in September. The variety ‘Profusion’ is characterized by good winter hardiness, but in the first year, a newly planted shrub should still be protected.
Callicarpa Bodineri ‘Leucocarpa’
The species Callicarpa bodineri grows somewhat more upright and stringy than Callicarpa giraldii. With this variety, you can expect a growth height of up to 10 ft (3 m). At the same time, the shrub remains somewhat slimmer with a maximum of 7 ft (2.5 m).
In summer, starting in July, the shrub delights with purple to pink flowers that hang very numerous on long umbels. The resulting berries are no different from those of Callicarpa giraldii in their splendid, glossy purple color and abundance.
The American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), a species native to the southern United States, shows a habit very similar to Callicarpa giraldii, with a bushy, somewhat sparse growth habit up to 7 ft (2.5 m) tall.
Somewhat different are the foliage leaves with their light green color and felt-like pubescence.
Another difference is the much earlier flowering period, which lasts from May to June.
The fruits have virtually the same shimmering metallic purple appearance as Callicarpa giraldii – however, they are not poisonous and are even palatable. The mosquito repellent substances here are primarily contained in the leaves and are traditionally used for this purpose on livestock.