American beautyberry

Callicarpa americana

American beautyberry is a sprawling native shrub with attractive purple or white berries. In fact, the genus name, Callicarpa, comes from the Greek for "beautiful fruit." If you look closely along the stems before the fruits set, you may observe tiny, lavender flowers borne in clusters. Bees are frequent visitors to these flowers and carry out pollination. American beautyberry can easily fit into a native garden or wildlife-friendly yard. Plenty of birds and small mammals consume the bright berries, while white-tailed deer may chew on the fuzzy, aromatic leaves. This shrub is equally at home in a more traditionally-landscaped yard, serving as a hedge or privacy screen if properly pruned. In any instance, American beautyberry thrives in partial shade and moist, well-drained soil.

Back in the 1770’s, botanist and explorer William Bartram noted possible evidence of American beautyberry cultivation by Native Americans in the southeast. Records indicate that certain tribes used this plant in sweat baths meant to ward against malaria, a disease caused by unicellular parasites transmitted by mosquitoes. Interestingly, recent research of American beautyberry’s chemical composition suggests that one chemical, aptly named callicarpenal, repels mosquitoes and other insects. As of mid-July, this native shrub is in beautiful fruit throughout the Naples Botanical Garden, including the unusual white-fruiting variety in the Smith Children’s Garden.

-Andee Naccarato, Department of Education and Conservation, Naples Botanical Garden

Originally published in the News-Press