Written by Judy Funderburk, Certified Master Gardener
The Glencarlyn Library Demonstration Garden has specimens of both the American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) and the Japanese Beautyberry (Callicarpa japonica). Our experience with them is based on the fun of comparing (and showing off) both in the same garden. The American Beautyberry has wider leaves and the flowers and later berries are more closely clustered around the stems of the branches giving quite a deep purple showing in the early fall. The berries last on the branches about 2 weeks. The Japanese Beautyberry has a narrower leaf and the flowers and then berries are still clustered near the stem, but tend to rise up a bit longer and make berries that are mostly above but still close to the stems. These berries last on this bush for about two months and are a late winter survival food for birds (one source also said a few species of lepidoptera larva feed on these plants).
We cut back the Japanese Beautyberry to about 18 inches in late February or early March before it starts sending out new growth. It looks naked for a couple weeks and then sends out vigorous new shoots, becomes 4 feet tall, and gets covered with pink blossoms. We did not cut back the American Beautyberry this year as it is newer and did not grow as vigorously last year. I now think this was a mistake as I believe both beautyberries bloom and make berries mostly on new growth.
We have had quite a few babies under and around our Japanese Beautyberry. I assume they sprout from the numerous berries that have been softened by their long stint on the bush. They are not hard to remove, give away or transplant.
A new piece of information on beautyberries : American beautyberry or Callicarpa americana has been found to be a natural insect repellent. The chemical ‘callicarpenal,’ extracted from American Beautyberry, has been patented by the United States Department of Agriculture Agriculture Research Service as a mosquito repellent (not sure if it only applies to American Beautyberry or if the US has only tested that variety).
Come see for yourself!! Both bushes are towards the back of the Library; both have identifying signage. The Japanese Beautyberry is in the Asian Garden on the 3rd Street side of the Library. The American Beautyberry is in the small section of the Garden on the left side of the path just beyond the Archway as you walk the path from 3rd Street.