Beautyberry: Fall Color at its Finest

As most of you know by now, I’m a summer girl. So fall, while beautiful, just reminds me that winter is all that much closer. This year, in fact, winter came DURING fall. I am still recovering from 15½ inches of snow and five days without power, and it’s only early November. So anyway, Beautyberry, or Callicarpa, as it is known in Latin, is one of those plants that make autumn tolerable for me. So let me tell you a bit about it.

I first met Callicarpa in a nursery, and I thought it was either a joke or one of those hybrid experiments with modern, neon, loud color. I bought it anyway. That was in my old house and old garden. It’s a scrawny bush with no real spring or winter interest, but then, in the fall it gets these gorgeously garish purple berries on the stems. When I moved, I thought I’d never bring something so non-native-looking to my woodland paradise garden. Imagine my surprise when I came across a botanical drawing of it in the amazing book The Brother Gardeners: A Generation of Gentleman Naturalists and the Birth of an Obsession, by Andrea Wulf (Vintage, 2010). First of all, the book is a great one in general about how the whole British gardening craze got started and was fueled by people like John Bartram, who scoured the new America to send plants, seeds, cuttings, and trees over the ocean to the plant-mad Brits. Second, reading its history of Callicarpa showed me just how wrong I was about the plant’s origins.

But that’s not what made me run out and buy a dozen of them. What I found was that beautyberry is one of the only plants on record that is known to repel ticks!

So, the seductive combination of intrigue, history, and utility has put Callicarpa at the top of my fall favorites list.

What’s on your fall favorites list? C’mon, I need some reasons to love fall again!



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8 Responses to Beautyberry: Fall Color at its Finest

  1. Kj November 4, 2011 at 7:46 am #

    I love bittersweet in the Fall. It has cone shaped seed pods(?) that have that burnt orange, burnt sienna color. I have seen them in California, Michigan and now North Carolina, so they may be where you live, too.

  2. Mark November 4, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    I love Beautyberry! It would look great in a fall wreath.

  3. evie November 4, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    I remember as a child living in the country, my mom, sister and I would take walks on the old dirt road near our home. My mom would pick the bittersweet and dry it for the fall to use for decorating. I have not been able to find bittersweet since I was that age (I will not mention the number of years since it is more than I care to admit–lol!) Anyway, when I temporarily moved to SC some years ago, a friend there gave me some bittersweet pods. I still have them — somewhere. I wonder if they would grow if I planted them outside after all this time? Oh the memories bittersweet picking inspires!

  4. Jean Nick November 4, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    Purple is the most wonderful of colors and never, ever garish in my book. I dearly love my scarlette winterberry holly bushes (especially in the midwinter snow with a flock of bluebirds devoring the fruit), but even its cheerful berries would be more wonderful if they were…purple!

  5. James Early November 5, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Here in Connecticut, bittersweet is a beautiful but very destructive vine that will swallow whole trees and strangle them. Yes, the dried berries are the epitome of fall color, but I have to rip it out of my yard every year or it will kill my trees.

  6. Lisa S November 5, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    I too had beautyberry at our old house and fell in love with it but have yet to bring it to the “new” place. Thanks for the reminder. Ninebark is another favorite as well as oakleaf hydrangeas.

  7. Chrissy November 7, 2011 at 3:00 am #

    When I moved to the house I live in now, I thoughtlessly pulled up the beautyberry growing here (and the walking onions). This year, I purchased and replanted the beautyberry back in the same spot and close by a linder benzoin because in the very early spring a branch can be brought in and forced to bloom. Brings a promise of spring when it looks very far off. As for hope in fall, I like to pick up a few yellow maple, burgandy dogwood, red pin oak, red sweet gum leaves and put them on the dining table.

  8. Donna in Delaware November 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    I had these bushes planted 2 years ago on a slope in my yard. They are most beautiful now. They are still small, but I did get the beautiful berries this year. I’m glad the landscaper told be about them. I love autumn. Sorry that you were snowed in Maria, and I hope that you finally got power back in your house.

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