Arboretum: Callicarpa americana, American beautyberry
This month’s plant is a stunning shrub in the fall: Callicarpa americana, American beautyberry. During most of the growing season it is a regular-looking green shrub with a rather coarse and open growing habit. In summer, small white or light pink flowers form at the base of the pairs of leaves marching down the stems. So why grow this native plant over many other equally unassuming green shrubs? The answer is revealed in the fall when vibrant clumps of fat violet-colored fruits encircle the stems.
Beautyberry grows up to 8 feet high but can be pruned back to 1 or 2 feet each fall after fruit drop to control growth. Cut stems can be used—minus the leaves-- in floral arrangements. Because flowers and thereby the fruit is produced on new growth, a hard pruning will not affect next year’s fall display. It is a good shrub for natural areas or in a mass planting; the growth habit is denser with a sunnier location. It likes moist soil but will tolerate drought. This Callicarpa is disease and pest-free, easy to transplant and grows fast. Give it some space!
Callicarpa americana’s natural range is from Maryland south, but it is happy growing in our area. There also is a white-fruited variety, ‘Lactea.’
In addition to the native species, the Asian species Callicarpa dichotoma or Purple beautyberry, has vivid-colored berries, though not in such size or profusion as our native species. Its form is more graceful; the arching branches feature leaves growing in one plane along the stem rather than radiating around it. C. dichotoma, native to eastern and central China, Japan and Korea, was introduced to this country in 1857. It grows 4 to 5 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide. It’s been designated a Gold Medal Plant by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society which means it is an underused woody plant of exceptional merit.