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Introduction to the Beautyberries
The very fruitful beautyberries are best known for the luminous purple to amethyst berries. The genus name refers to the beautiful fruits.
Worldwide, there are about 140 species or so. Most are native to tropical or sub-tropical regions. These occur in Asia, Australia, North and South America, and the West Indies.
The group includes trees and shrubs. Most of the ones seen in North America are shrubs. Members of the verbena family, the plants are mostly small to medium sized shrubs in temperate zones. In tropical areas, some species can reach 20 feet. But, this is rare elsewhere.
Generally, these plants are ten feet or less in height. Some species are only one to four feet or so tall. They can be almost as wide. Depending on the climate and the species, the plants can be evergreen to deciduous.
These plants bear long, slender stems. The opposite, simple, deeply veined, toothed foliage turns yellow or purple in the fall.
Both the flowers and fruits of beautyberry arise on new wood. The axillary sprays of dense cymes, up to two inches wide, contain many tiny, crowded blossoms. Typically appearing from July through August, these are held well above the foliage in some species but can be less conspicuous in some others. Mostly violet or blue, the blooms are a favorite of butterflies. In some species, the flowers can be pink, white, red, or purple.
Beautyberry fruits begin to ripen in late summer to fall, depending on the species. The berries of some species last into the winter. The individual fruits are ¼ inch or less in diameter according to the species. However, they form large clusters that can be two to four inches across. In some species, these resemble beads.
The berries will be most showy after the plant drops its foliage in the late fall. The exact color of the long lasting berries can vary slightly. Usually, they’re metallic or glossy purple. There are varieties that bear white fruits, but they're by no means as showy as the purples.
Beautyberry fruits are eaten by birds. The spherical to round fruits can contain up to four seeds. The edible berries are eaten raw and made into jelly.
The cut stems of beautyberry are suitable for flower arrangements. Because the leaves on the cut stems tend to wilt very badly, these should be removed before inserting the stems into the arrangement.
For best results, plant beautyberry shrubs in masses or large groups rather than as isolated plants. The fruit display will be much showier in the massed plants.
These shrubs are suitable for shrub borders and mixed borders. Select beautyberries based on your hardiness zone and by plant size according to the garden space available. For small gardens, choose the low growing, compact types.
The hardiness varies somewhat by species. At least three species are suitable for zone five. In colder areas, the tops of the plants can sometimes die back to the ground. If that occurs, just remove the old stems and it will grow back from the roots.
Beautyberries are propagated by seed, cuttings, and by divisions. The plants can self sow. usually; the seeds germinate best if they’re first given a warm stratification period before they’re planted.
These shrubs are easy to transplant. They adapt to both dappled shade and full sun. Generally, they’re more floriferous and fruitful if provided with full sun. The exception is the native species, which grows well under tall pines.
Beautyberries adapt to a range of soil types provided it is moist and well drained. A moderately rich soil is preferred. For the most part, beautyberries are undemanding plants. They experience few pests or diseases.
So far as routine care, little fertilizer is needed. The plants tend to be free flowering and more fruitful if they’re pruned on a regular basis in late winter. Cut the stems back to within five to ten inches or so above the ground level.
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