By Donna Hagar, Somervell County Master Gardener
Common Name: American Beautyberry – Botanical name: Callicara americana
American beautyberry is a fast growing native perennial shrub; growing five to eight feet tall and almost as wide. It has long, arching branches and yellow-green fall foliage, but its most striking feature is the clusters of glossy, iridescent – purple fruit (sometimes white) which hug the branches in clusters along the branches in the fall and winter.
The fruit is an important food source for more than forty species of songbirds. The berry clusters are eaten by armadillo, foxes, opossum, raccoon and squirrels. White tailed deer consume the fruit in the fall after leaf drop. They will also browse the leaves in summer when highly preferred foods are not available.
The roots, leaves, and branches were used by various Native American tribes for medicinal purposes to treat fevers and rheumatism. In the early 20th century, farmers would crush the leaves and place them under the harnesses of horses and mules to repel mosquitoes. The farmers rubbed the crushed leaves on themselves to repel mosquitoes and biting bugs.
American beautyberry is used as an ornamental shrub in mass plantings or borders or can stand alone as a speciman shrub. It is best suited to semi-shaded sites with some moisture. It is remarkably tolerant of various soils and habitats.
I can attest that this is one hardy shrub. I transplanted a sapling from a friend in the dead heat of August. It has been dug up by armadillos and my chickens several times, but hasn’t given up yet! Maybe next year the chickens will be able to eat the berries!