American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, is a woody deciduous shrub that is native to the central and Southeastern United States. It’s known for its glossy, almost iridescent purple berries, which ripen in the fall and can persist into winter, giving the leafless shrub a unique and beautiful appearance. This shrub can add interest to your garden in the fall and it is very attractive to wildlife. The berries are a food source for more than 40 species of birds, including finches, mockingbirds, robins, cardinals, and thrashers. Preceding the berries are delicate, pale pink blossoms that bees and butterflies love.
In its native habitat, it is an understory shrub that provides not only food, but important shelter for wildlife and low growing plants. Understory shrubs also shelter and protect important microbes, which in turn decompose leaf litter, turning it into nutrients that can be used by all of the plants. Adding an understory layer to your landscape can help improve the health of the soil and support more wildlife!
The flowers and berries are only half of the story with this valuable plant! Native American tribes used every part of the plant, from the leaves to the roots, to makes teas to treat rheumatism, fever, malaria, and stomach issues. The leaves also contain chemicals that are repellant to mosquitoes and other biting insects. Many years ago, farmers were known to crush the leaves and place them under the harnesses of their horses and mules, as well as rubbing the leaves on their own skin. The berries, while not the tastiest, are edible for us as well and many have used them to make jams, jellies, pancakes, and even wine! A plant that has so many ecological benefits, medicinal uses, and looks this fabulous, is a must have for any garden or landscape!
(By guest contributor: Dany Millikin, Director of Education, Houston Botanic Garden)