Recently, I've had several people send me pictures asking, "What is this beautiful plant with purple berries?" My answer each time was beautyberry.
The beautyberry (Callicarpa sp.) has show-stopping purple fruit in the fall. In fact, the genus name Callicarpa means beautiful fruit in Greek.
These deciduous shrubs produce bright, glossy clusters of violet-purple fruit that encircle their stems in the fall. The fruit is typically at its peak coloration in October. It has small, pink flowers in mid-late summer, though they are not nearly as showy as its fruit.
Although there are several different types available, the Purple Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) usually has the best fruit display. It is also the most winter hardy here. Still, it is only hardy in zones 5-8, so I consider it a tender shrub. Similar to butterfly bush it will die back to the ground during most of our winters, but the roots should regrow in the spring.
This 4-6' small rounded shrub is not only beautiful but also a low maintenance plant. It prefers to grow in well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. The shrub has few insect and disease problems. It might require some pruning in the spring to remove winter-killed stems and to keep it more compact. This will not impact flowers or fruit since the plant blooms on new growth.
There are several cultivars available for Purple Beautyberry. 'Early Amethyst' produces large quantities of small fruit, and grows 3-4 feet tall. The 'Issai' cultivar is a mounded form touted to produce heavy fruit crop at an early age.
The Purple Beautyberry is native to Asia, as is its cousin the Japanese beautyberry (Callicarpa japonica). Japanese beautyberry is very similar, though it may grow taller. It has a white fruiting cultivar available called 'Leucocarpa.'
We also have a native beautyberry, though it is only considered hardy in zones 7-11 so probably won't overwinter here. American beautyberry (C. americana) is a native woodland plant in the warmer areas of the southeastern states.
In addition to providing color to the landscape, beautyberry is also a favorite food for many species of songbirds, including robins, cardinals, brown thrashers, mockingbirds, and the Eastern Towhee. Unfortunately, the foliage is also a favorite of White-tailed Deer.
Consider adding beautyberry to your home landscape.