The beautyberry is a native plant found all across the American southeast. It does well under a variety of conditions, from dry areas open to full sun, to humid forests. It grows in a round shape with many long branches, and reaches a height of four to eight feet, depending on growing conditions. More information can be found at the University of Florida and the University of Texas at Austin.
Callicarpa americana is far too formal and stiff a name for a plant so bursting with attractive features. This bush is not only colorful and eye-catching, but useful as well. Why should you consider adding this shrub to your lawn? Because it has three features that make it well worth seeking it out.
First, its appearance. The beautyberry truly lives up to its name. It blooms heavily in thick clumps of flowers that range from pink-white to lavender, and attracts butterflies and bees. Then the flowers turn into small but vibrantly purple berries that are loved by birds and people alike. The clusters of berries can remain on the bush even after it has shed its leaves, making a striking note of color for your winter landscape. Enjoy this selection of pictures that demonstrate how lovely this plant can be.
Second, the berries are more than just pretty, they are edible as well. While the berries are too astringent to be eaten in large amounts, they are sweet enough to enjoy now and then. The berries make wonderful jelly. I also know of people who have used them to make wine, ice cream syrup, even muffins.
And third, the beautyberry bush is especially useful for people who are sensitive to DEET. For years, crushing a handful of beautyberry leaves then rubbing the leaves on the skin has been a folk remedy for repelling mosquitoes. Now this use has moved from folklore to confirmed science, as this article in Science Daily shows. The leaves help protect against insects without all the risks of chemical repellents.
If you are lucky enough to already own a beautyberry bush, try this simple recipe for jelly.
1 ½ quarts of washed beautyberries
2 quarts of water
1 envelope Sure Jell
4 ½ cups sugar
Boil the berries in the water for twenty minutes. Then strain the pulp out of the liquid. Measure out three cups of the liquid and add the Sure Jell and the sugar. Bring it to a boil, and boil for two minutes. Take the jelly from the heat and let it stand until foam forms. Skim the foam, then pour the jelly into sterilized jars and cap it.