Monday, December 7, 2009

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

We were robin-flocked for a few days last week, just in advance of a (rare) deep freeze Friday.  The birds swarmed the American Beautyberry bushes I planted outside our bedroom windows a few years ago.

Robins are only seen in our part of the Texas Hill Country during migration, which made the sighting more of  a treat.  I'm pretty sure they left some berries for our winter Hermit Thrush and the Mockingbird and Eastern Phoebe too.

The birds are a big reason we planted the bushes, in addition to lush spring-fall foliage and appealing sprays of purple berries from late summer into winter.

American Beautyberry thrives in dappled-shade areas and in part-sun (morning).  The bushes average 3-5 feet tall and wide, up to 9 feet in optimal conditions, and are ecumenical regarding soil composition--from sand through clay.  The Lady Bird Wildflower website says beautyberry prefers moist woods and fertile soil.  The bushes probably grow better in those conditions but ours are doing well in rocky clay in a part-sun dry site.  If planted in sunny areas, the bushes require more water and I'll admit to having watered via soaker hose during our epic drought, but the plants are not water hogs.  Beautyberry is native across the southeastern US from Virginia south and west into Texas and Oklahoma (zones 6a-10b).

The leaves fall in winter but stems decked in purple berries provide color.  When the winter birds have eaten the berries, I usually prune the stalks back 12-18" from the ground, to promote bushy growth next season.

Deer will eat American Beautyberry foliage if the plants are easily accessible.  I get around this by planting away from the areas deer frequent in my yard and by inter-planting with Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), which is unpalatable to deer.  The two plant species are compatible and grow together to form lovely islands of green punctuated by purple berries and red Turk's Cap's flowers.

As a side benefit, we enjoy winter birdwatching in warm comfort with Ernest.  Although I'm pretty sure his interest is culinary.
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