Beautyberry


Take a walk on the edge of the woods in the fall, particularly near an old cemetery or abandoned landscape. Your eyes will likely zone in on some iridescent purple to magenta berries. They encircle the stems in clusters and their abundance will impress you.

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is a native shrub not used much these days, but its fall color is as unique as any you’ll see. The fruits really live up to their name.

They grow in full sun to quite shady conditions. Fruiting is more prolific when plants receive adequate sunlight and moisture. Quite often they can be found on the edges of swampy areas. Beautyberries are a low water user and can tolerate drier sites as well.

These deciduous shrubs can grow to eight or nine feet but four feet is more typical. Growth habit is loose and spreading. Plants respond well to pruning and can be kept where you want them. Pruning also makes their growth more dense, which is pleasing to many.

Serrated leaves emerge from the stems in pairs. Fall foliage is yellowish green, but the berries are the real treat to look at.

Squirrels, deer, bobwhite quail and many songbirds love them and can eliminate the gorgeous color in short order. Deer are fond of the foliage as well. Flowers are rich in nectar and attract butterflies.

They can be a culinary treat also. Many people think they are poisonous, but they’re not. When consumed fresh the berries have little taste other than being somewhat astringent and sour.

Cooking changes things. They make a fabulous jelly with a delicate flavor somewhere in between apple and cherry. The color loses some of its vibrancy during processing, but jams and jellies still are a pleasing bright pinkish red.

Odor of crushed foliage is not what I would consider delicate. Beautyberry is related to lantana. Foliage from many lantana cultivars can offend our olfactory nerves and so can beautyberry leaves.

All is not lost, however. Chemicals inside the leaves are highly effective for repelling mosquitoes and biting flies. Research has even shown compounds isolated from beautyberry to be effective in controlling fire ants.

Simply crushing the leaves and rubbing the juice on our skin is safe. It’s probably less dangerous than lathering our skin or our pets with DEET, the active ingredient in most commercial repellants.

I’d say a little bitter smell beats getting eaten up by mosquitoes or ticks. In this slow economy the price is right too.

Researchers at the University of Mississippi are working with this native shrub in hopes of making a buck from it. They have identified three compounds with strong repellant properties. Maybe we’ll see a beautyberry insect repellant on the shelves of our local stores in the future.

Don’t look for it anytime soon. Approving a chemical for use is a tedious process. The EPA has many regulations, meaning it might take several years to get something licensed. In the meantime you can collect your own and maybe enough berries for a batch of homemade jelly.

Beautyberry shrub

Beautyberry shrub

Beautyberry close-up

Beautyberry close-up

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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14 Responses to Beautyberry

  1. They are really pretty and it’s nice that it repels mosquitoes

  2. i love the color of these berries. It is nice to know that they repel mosquitoes.

  3. they are very pretty, and its a plus that they have a good taste when cooked! (: also that they repel mosquitoes

  4. kimberlypaigeweaver says:

    I like how pretty they are. I havent really ever thought about making jelly or even cooking with these.

  5. awhitenhs12 says:

    They are very pretty, ive never heard of them until now,, pretty cool that they can repel mosquito’s

  6. sbright16 says:

    I’ve never heard of them before they are really pretty and I like the fact that they repel mosquitoes.

  7. That is interesting that these berries can repel mosquitoes

  8. susiehedley says:

    I am very interested in these; I didn’t know that they are made into jelly and like how they repel mosquitoes.

  9. Morgan Murray says:

    The Beautyberry is a beautiful shrub. It is also beneficiary with its ability to produce berries that make a delicious jelly. I never knew that this shrub was related to the common lantana. My favorite part about this plant is the fact that it can repel mosquitoes and biting flies.

  10. Since these berries repel misqitos, im surprised that I haven’t heard of them sooner. The color is very pretty and it makes the bush stand out.

  11. curtis24 says:

    Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is a native shrub not used much these days, but its fall color is as unique as any you’ll see. The fruits really live up to their name.They can be a culinary treat also. Many people think they are poisonous, but they’re not. When consumed fresh the berries have little taste other than being somewhat astringent and sour.

  12. ashleychory says:

    The Beautyberry is a native shrub but are not used much now. It is also beneficiary with its ability to produce berries that make jelly. the beautyberry plant can repel mosquitoes and biting flies

  13. i think it is really cool that they can repel mosiquitos

  14. alishabw says:

    I hate mosquitos and biting flies, so therefore this have become my new favorite plant and the color of the berries are also very pretty.

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