Bluebeards and Beautyberries

I recall the first time seeing a mass planting of bluebeards (Caryopteris), and later viewing a grouping of purple beautyberries (Callicarpa) bordering a pond covered by bright red leaves fallen from a nearby swamp maple (Acer rubrum). My memory is often hazy, and my attention span so short that too many events pass without registering at all. But, marvels such as these from long ago are not easily forgotten.Caryopteris Sunshine Blue

I suspect that many gardeners are compelled to plant bluebeards and beautyberries after seeing one or a mass in a neighborhood garden in late summer and early autumn. In recent weeks I’ve written of my fondness for several types of bluebeards (above and below), and regret that I hadn’t space in the garden for more than single plants distributed wherever space was found, for these are truly wondrous when planted in quantity.Bumblebee on caryopteris

While bluebeards favor a sunny spot, beautyberries adapt readily to part shade, which there is quite a bit of in this garden. With more area to choose from, I’ve been able to plant several groupings of purple and white flowered beautyberries, along with single plants tucked into damp spaces that few other shrubs will tolerate.Purple beautyberry

My eye was caught at first by purple beautyberries (Callicarpa dichotoma, above), which are not remarkable in the slightest until berries color up in late summer. The small flowers are insignificant, and the arching stems and plain green leaves are quite ordinary. But, the red berries of hollies (Ilex) and nandinas are no match for the beautyberry’s glossy purple berries. Our native bunchberry (Callicarpa americana) is only slightly less ornamental with dense clusters of smaller purple berries. With the recent emphasis on native plants it is becoming more commonly available, though it is less cold hardy for the northern half of the country.  White beautyberry in late October

The white berried beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Albifructus’, above) is less stunning than the purple, but still a lovely plant at the time when much of the garden begins to decline in late summer. The berries are almost lost in the variegated foliage of ‘Duet’ beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma f. albifructa ‘Duet’, below), but this shrub earns its place in the garden with attractive foliage and berries.Duet beautyberry

Beautyberries leaf out late in spring, and half woody branches often require substantial pruning to cut out dead after the branches have leafed. So, the shrubs are most appropriate for the side and rear gardens, though care in placement should be taken so that berries can be enjoyed close up.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Barbara H. says:

    I love both of these plants. The only problem with beauty berries is that the birds love them too. My two bushes were fully loaded and I especially enjoyed them when mowing since they are a little out of the way of my main garden. On the last mow job, I noticed that they were almost completely stripped of berries. I’m glad I at least got to see them before they were too quickly gone.

    1. Dave says:

      Berries of beautyberry persist long into autumn in my garden. It seems that there are specific birds that favor these berries.

      1. Barbara H. says:

        Interesting! I’ll have to do some research. I’m in NE Alabama. Love your blog.

  2. Angela says:

    Dave, thank you for introducing me to flora of /North/Central Virginia as I just moved to Greene county from the mountains of NC and find the vegetation slightly different here. Your garden, specifically Bluebeards in this post, has unusual plants that I would also like to put in my new blank slat of a garden. Where do you generally obtain them? The local Lowes that is the principal source near me, and even the nearby Meadows do not carry these unique plants. My experience with mail order plants has been disappointing. I just discovered that there is a garden club in our county and plan to join them next month. Perhaps they can be a source of information. Thank you for an engaging and interesting blog.

    1. Dave says:

      Both bluebeards and beautyberries are readily available from growers, but unfortunately, the practicalities of the garden center business are that there are too few shoppers interested in anything except mums in early autumn. I have an advantage in that I purchase the plants for the landscape end of Meadows Farms, and I bring in a variety of plants that I encourage our landscape designers to use in their designs, which then increases their exposure and possibly their sales in the garden centers.

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