How, I ask you, HOW can you not immediately fall in love with a plant called “American beautyberry”? Our beloved nation, attractiveness, juicy bits of deliciousness . . . it just makes the heart swell. Here, take a Kleenex.
The emotive lexicon is well deserved. This large, deciduous shrub 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 3-4 seeds each.
The juicy berries are a source of food for more than 40 species of songbirds, including the American (but of course) 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. 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.
Incidentally, while we’ve made a big deal about the Americanness of this plant that’s native to the southeastern United States, somehow, SOMEHOW, it’s also been saddled with the nickname “French mulberry.” Puhlease.
What You’ll Learn
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 drunk to treat colic.
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.
If growing from seed, soak the seeds in clean, cool water for 24 hours.
Sow seeds 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.
You can propagate beautyberry from softwood cuttings. Softwood is a stem that is not brand new nor old and woody.
Cut 4- to 6-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.
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.
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.
- Plant in rich soil if you can’t, 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 2 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
If you’d like to buy a live plant, consider this one from Fragrant Fields Herbs & Perennials, available via Amazon.
You’ll get a small plant in a 3.5-inch square pot.
If you prefer seeds, consider this packet of 30 seeds from IM WAODE via Amazon.
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.
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
It’s Not FRENCH as Apple Pie
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:
- 19 Fragrant Flower and Shrub Favorites For Your Garden
- 13 of the Best Evergreen Shrubs for Your Garden
- The Best 15 Woody Shrubs for Fall Color
Photos by Gretchen Heber © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.
About Gretchen Heber
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.