The Plant Native

American Beautyberry

Highlights

American Beautyberry is a gorgeous shrub native to the southeastern United States known for its electric purple berries that appear in the late summer/early fall. The berries look like candy for birds and can last on the branches through the winter. They are fast growers, like sun to part sun, and can get 4-6 feet tall. This was once one of the most common shrubs in the south—let’s bring it back! Discover planting tips and varieties below.

Full Sun – Part Shade
6′ tall
Berries appear in the fall
Callicarpa Americana

Electric purple berries!

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native American Beautyberry.

Table of Contents

Why is it important to plant native plants like American Beautyberry?

Planting native plants makes our yards and spaces gorgeous while helping the birds, butterflies, and animals (and helping save us time!) Here are three reasons why planting native is worth it:

  1. Without native plants, iconic animals like Monarch butterflies and songbirds won’t have the food or homes needed to survive
  2. Native plants save time and money: after the first year of getting established, native plants are happy with rain
  3. Native plants are gorgeous! American Beautyberries are a perfect example of how beautiful and resilient native plants are—they are always the best choice for our gardens.

History of the American Beautyberry

The American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is due for a comeback. According to 1925 edition of North American Wildflowers, the American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), “is one of the most common plants of the Southern States.”

Imagine how incredible it must have been 100 years ago to see thousands of these shrubs covered in electric purple berries in the southern landscape. 

The 1925 North American Wildflowers continues, “This native species is much more showy than the related Asiatic species, but is rarely cultivated. It occurs from Florida northward to Virginia and westward to Texas and Missouri.” Today, due to climate change, the American Beautyberry region has also extended northward to include Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia.

American Beautyberry throughout the seasons

No matter the season, American Beautyberries look gorgeous.

Spring

In the spring, American Beautyberries send out bright green leaves and cover their stalks with tiny fairy-like purple flowers.

Early summer

In the early summer, American Beautyberry flowers give way to green berries, which then change to purple in a gorgeous gradient.

Late Summer – Fall

In the summer and early fall, the berries turn on their neon purple show.

Fall

In the fall in northern climates, the leaves change to a warm yellow before they fall. In more southern locations like Florida, the leaves remain evergreen.

Winter

In the winter the electric purple berries remain on Beautyberry’s stem, making it easy for songbirds to find a snack. And then back to the beautiful fairy-like flowers all over again!

NC State Extension shared a great overview video of the plant throughout the seasons, including its fairy-like spring blossoms.

American Beautyberry cultivars

Cultivars are plants that have been selected or changed by humans to behave in certain ways. (Here’s a quick cultivar overview.) Cultivars can be made for lots of reasons: to increase drought tolerance, change height, or change colors.

The Plant Native recommends always planting true native plants. That said, sometimes cultivars catch our eye. Here are some American Beautyberry cultivars you may encounter.

American Beautyberry "Pearl Glam"

The “Pearl Glam” cultivar has darkened leaves, which make the plant even more dramatic and black-tie. 

American Beautyberry "Early Amethyst"

According to White Flower Farm, this cultivar “shares many attributes of the species—a pleasant, rounded form, long, elliptical leaves, small pink flowers, and bright lavender berries—but it sets fruit in early September, well before other varieties of Beautyberry.”

Native vs. cultivar

Plant true native plants whenever possible. Cultivars (short for CULTivated VARieties) are selected and made by humans and do not offer the same benefits to bugs, birds, and animals that native plants do. 

Where does American Beautyberry do best?

American Beautyberries are so easy to grow because they do well is lots of different areas, from full sun to part-sun. They are fast growers and can get 4-6 feet wide and tall. Plant them underneath trees on the edges of your property, or in the center of gardens with shorter plants in front.

How much space do American Beautyberries need?

These shrubs get 4-6′ wide. When you plant them smaller, put perennials alongside to help fill in the space. As the Beautyberry grows, dig up the perennials and move them to other spots in your garden. 

Plant a few, together!

American beautyberries look especially awe-inspiring when planted in multiples. If there is a semi-sunny area along your driveway or at the edge of your yard, plant a few. Bonus if you plant them near a window view, so you can watch the birds eat the berries throughout the fall and winter.

No pesticides or herbicides

Avoid using pesticides or herbicides near American Beautyberry plants, as they can harm the birds and pollinators that visit the plant.

How to grow American Beautyberry

By seed or propagation

You can propagate this shrub from seed or by taking stem cuttings in the spring. Plant by seed if you’re patient, by cutting to be a little faster.

Grow Beautyberry by seed

If you’re patient, you can grow American Beautyberry by seed. It will take a few years for the plant to reach bushy-size. To plant by seed:

  1. Take some of the bright purple berries in the fall
  2. Plant them directly in the garden, 1/2″ deep
  3. Wait 3-5 months
  4. Shoots will emerge in the spring

Grow American Beautyberry by cuttings

You can simply cut a stem from a friend’s yard in the spring to make your own American beautyberry by “propagation.” To propagate from a cutting:

  1. Wait until the spring
  2. Cut 4-6 inch stems from a healthy plant
  3. Dip the bottom tip of the cutting into rooting hormone before planting (if needed, you can remove the leaves on the bottom to help place them in the dirt)
  4. Place the cuttings in small pots with an all-purpose soil mix (nothing fancy is needed)
  5. Keep your cutting in a warm place indoors in bright, indirect light
  6. The cutting should begin to grow 2-3 weeks after planting
  7. It will be ready to plant in your garden 2 months later!

Grow American Beautyberry from plants

American Beautyberry plants will normally fruit the first year they are planted and will return in the following years taller and bigger.

Buy American Beautyberry plants online

Buy or find American Beautyberry plants nearby

There are three reliable ways to find American Beautyberry plants for your yard in your community:

1

Buy from a local plant nursery

Your local nursery may have Beautyberry plants to buy; call ahead to see if it’s in stock. Whenever possible, buy native plants from local nurseries. To date, Home Depot and Lowes have never carried this plant.

2

Find a local plant swap

Beautyberries are easy to dig up and give away. Search local gardening groups on Facebook to find local gardeners who often give away plants during the spring and fall.

3

Visit local plant sales in the spring

Almost all local plant organizations and gardens host plant sales in the spring. These plant sales often include plants that are not available at conventional nurseries. Check your local garden websites for dates.

What pairs well with American Beautyberry?

American Beautyberries look fantastic alongside other native shrubs such as Azaleas, Mountain Laurel, Rhododendrons, and Sweetshrub. If you have a fence or trellis nearby, you have to plant the native vines Coral Honeysuckle or American Wisteria. If you want flowers (and who doesn’t?!) plant milkweed, coneflower, mountain mint, and asters

Native shrubs

flame-azalea-native-plant-shrub

Azalea

mountain-laurel-native-shrub-flower

Mountain Laurel

rosebay-rhododendron-native-shrub-flowering

Rhododendron

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Sweetshrub

Native vines

Native flowers

We hope you’re feeling inspired to add a splash of electric purple to your landscape with American Beautyberry! Not only is this native shrub stunning to look at, but it’s also a great way to support local ecosystems. By following our tips for cultivation and care, you can easily incorporate this hardy and beautiful plant into your garden or natural area. Happy planting!

UPDATED —
02/19/2024
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