How to Grow and Care for American Beautyberry Shrubs

Callicarpa americana

How can you not immediately fall in love with a plant called “American beautyberry”? It just makes the heart swell. Here, take a Kleenex.

The emotive lexicon is well deserved.

This large, deciduous shrub, native to the southeastern United States, is truly beautiful.

With long, arching branches bearing large, light green leaves, and clusters of little flowers that morph into green and then brilliant purple berries containing three to four seeds each.

Close up of purple berries and green leaves of the American beautyberry shrub.

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The juicy berries are a source of food for more than 40 species of songbird, including the American robin, mockingbirds, woodpeckers and finches.

Armadillos, foxes, opossum, squirrels, and raccoons like the berries, too. When desperately hungry, deer will eat the leaves of the plant and they’ll eat the berries after they’ve dropped.

Humans can eat the berries, too; they’re said to have a medicinal flavor when eaten raw.

Callicarpa americana or purple American beautyberry shrubs in the late summer with purple berries, pictured in light sunshine.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.

They can also be made into jam.  Some people have reported upset stomach after eating the berries, however, so it might be best to try just a few before eating a big ol’ slice of beautyberry pie.

If animals and people don’t eat them all, the berries will persist well into winter, even after the leaves have all fallen.

American beautyberry is appreciated for its fall interest – bright yellow leaves and, of course, the lovely bb-sized purple berries.

Cultivation and History

Native American tribes 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.

Top down view of a cluster of purple American beautyberry seeds surrounded by four leaves, pictured in light sunshine on a soft focus background.

In the early 1900s, farmers crushed the leaves and placed them under the harnesses of horses to repel mosquitoes.

They also rubbed the crushed leaves on their skin to repel mosquitoes and other biting bugs.

Propagation

You can propagate this shrub from seed or by taking softwood stem cuttings.

From Seed

If growing from seed, soak the seeds in clean, cool water for 24 hours.

If you want to start seeds indoors, sow 1/16-inch deep in small pots or seedling trays filled with seed-starter potting mix.  Place trays or pots in a warm, sunny area.

Keep the soil lightly moist via a spray-bottle mister until the seedlings are transplant size, about three months after sowing.

This plant also liberally reseeds itself.

For direct sowing, you can sow seeds in fall, before first frost or in spring, after all danger of frost has passed.

From Cuttings

You can propagate beautyberry from softwood cuttings in spring. Softwood is a stem that is not brand new nor old and woody.

Cut four- to six-inch stems from a healthy plant. Fill small pots with an all-purpose soil mix and insert and remove a pencil to create a hole for the cutting.

Remove the lower leaves from your cutting, dip the cleanly cut end into rooting hormone and place in the hole.

Create a mini greenhouse by placing a plastic dome or clear plastic bag over the pot or pots. Put it in bright, indirect light.

Read more about propagation techniques for this shrub here.

How to Grow

American beautyberry likes rich, organic soil, but it will tolerate less-delicious soils, as long as they are well-draining. Depending where you live and plant it, it may take full sun, though it will need lots of water.

Here in Texas, it’s often used as an understory shrub, with dappled shade.

Callicarpa americana or American beautyberry shrub with purple berry clusters on its branches.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.

If you’re transplanting from a nursery container, dig a hole the the same depth as the root ball and a little wider. Place the root ball in the hole and backfill with native soil.

Water in well.

Growing Tips

  • Plant in rich soil if you can, but don’t sweat it if you can’t.
  • Water well when young.
  • No need to fertilize.

Pruning and Maintenance

In warmer areas, this shrub may be pruned back in late winter to about two feet less than the desired size.

Beautyberry is drought-tolerant once established, though it performs better with more hydration. And as we mentioned above, if you plant it in full sun, you’ll need to really dump the water on it.

This plant doesn’t require fertilization.

Where to Buy

Are you ready to add American beautyberry to your landscape?

A close up square image of the bright purple berries of Callicarpa americana growing in the garden pictured on a soft focus background.

American Beautyberry Bush Live Plant

You can find live shrubs in three-gallon containers available from Fast Growing Trees.

Managing Pests and Diseases

The only known beautyberry pests are the animals that enjoy the plant’s berries.

You may see minor leaf spots (Atractilina callicarpae) or black mold (Meliola cookeana), which can be treated with a fungicide.

Best Uses

This shrub looks spectacular in mass plantings, and it can be used in reclamation work and for erosion control.

It also makes a nice back-of-the-border plant.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type:Woody shrub, deciduousFlower / Foliage Color:Light green leaves, lavender or pink flowers, purple berries
Native to:Southeastern US as far north as MissouriMaintenance:Minimal
Hardiness (USDA Zone):6-10Water Needs:Drought-tolerant but does better with regular watering, especially when young
Bloom Time / Season:Blooms June-August; berries August-SeptemberSoil Type:Not picky; all
Exposure:Sun to part shadeSoil pH:4.8-7.0
Growth Rate:FastSoil Drainage:Well-draining
Spacing:5 feetCompanion Planting:Black-eyed susan, columbine, muhly grass
Planting Depth:Same depth as containerUses:Mass plantings, back of borders
Height:5-9 feetAttracts:Birds and other wildlife
Spread:5 feetFamily:Lamiaceae
Tolerance:Drought, shade, clay soilGenus:Callicarpa
Pests & Diseases:Black mold and leaf spots, damage from animals and birds.Species:americana

Berry Beautiful

This large shrub with its long, arched, purple-berry-laden branches is a lovely piece of native American flora.

Sun or shade tolerate, not picky about soil, drought-tolerant – it’s a low-maintenance addition to the landscape.

Do you have American beautyberry in your garden? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

And to find more ornamental woody shrub choices for your backyard, be sure check out some of these guides:

Photo of author
A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

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