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Beautyberry fruit adds beauty to landscapes
Now that we’re finally into September, I think many of our landscape plants are rejoicing in anticipation of the (hopefully) coming milder temperatures as much as I am. The colorful annuals that survived the hot summer will start to recover, while other landscape plants have been waiting for this season to begin their show.
At this time of year, I reflect on the fact that, with the exception of various landscape hollies, fruiting landscape plants are used much too infrequently.
One plant that should be used more is our native American beautyberry, which has just begun its showy fall display. This plant is commonly found on the edges of woodlands all across Mississippi. Its wide distribution range is east of the Mississippi in the mid-Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions.
Despite its native status, American beautyberry is quite at home in the landscape.
While the lavender-pink flowers are quite attractive, what draws the most attention is it’s bright magenta-purple berries growing in tight clusters all up and down the arching stems.
If you like this plant, you’re not limited to just purple berries. Some selections have white and pink berries. I really like the Welch’s Pink selection that was first found in west Texas. It has pastel pink berries that whiten in the fall.
If you like variegated plants, there is a variegated beautyberry called Duet. The foliage is green with variable yellow margins, and the berries are white.
Duet has a special place in the garden for me because I discovered it in 2000. It is the only stable variegated beautyberry in the nursery trade. This selection is becoming more available at local nurseries, but if you’re having trouble finding it, an Internet search should provide leads to plant sources.
Regardless of the variety, the berries of beautyberry will persist into the fall and winter until the birds pick the branches clean.
American beautyberry grows up to 4 feet tall and wide. In north Mississippi, this plant may die back to the ground in severe winters. It is a good practice to prune the plant in early spring to about 6 inches, as this keeps it fuller and more compact.
Beautyberry has a loose and open habit. One plant can be attractive, but a grouping of two or three creates a full cluster. The plants cross pollinate to help ensure the fullest fruit production.
Beautyberry tolerates dry soil conditions and part shade, but the healthiest plants and best fruit presentation are in full sun. Be sure to maintain consistent soil moisture.
There are a few different species of beautyberry that offer differences in mature size and berry arrangement. All are generally referred to as beautyberry in garden centers and nurseries. In my opinion, what the plants are called doesn’t matter; just be sure to plant one or two in your landscape.
Editor's note: Dr. Gary Bachman is an Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. He is also the host of the popular Southern Gardening television and radio programs.