Throughout most of the year, the American beautyberry is a native shrub that goes unnoticed. However, from the moment its fruits begin to ripen in late summer, birds and humans find them impossible to ignore.
The American beautyberry’s gaudy, bright lavender-colored fruit seemingly advertise themselves to resident and migratory birds alike. When migrating songbirds stop and begin looking for food to fuel their fall migration, being able to find nutritious food quickly is extremely important. This enables the birds to expend a minimum amount of energy and time before resuming their southward trek.
Since beautyberries will remain on the shrub well into winter, they also provide food for birds when it is often scarce.
Beautyberries are eaten by a number of our backyard favorites such as American Robins, Baltimore Orioles, Northern Mockingbirds, Eastern Towhees, Wood Thrushes, Northern Cardinals, Gray Catbirds, and Brown Thrashers.
In exchange for serving as a source of food for birds, the plants have their seeds scattered widely when the feathered diners expel them in their droppings.
In my yard, mockingbirds vigorously defend fruit-laden American beautyberry plants from other birds. Late one summer, two Baltimore Orioles landed on a hummingbird feeder hanging outside my office. Their sudden appearance provided me with a perfect opportunity to photograph these handsome birds. However, just as I was about to snap my first picture, a mockingbird, that had been defending a nearby beautyberry bush, swooped down on the orioles and scared them away.
In backyard settings, American beautyberries can be planted in a shrubby border or as an occasional shrub.
They can be grown in a wide range of soils, as well as in both partial shade and full sun. In addition, they require much less water than many ornamental plants. In my yard, they are growing in sunny locations with their roots anchored in dry, hard Georgia red clay.
Most beautyberry plantings are established using containerized plants or pass-along plants obtained from a friend. Beautyberry plants can, however, be propagated from both cuttings and seeds.
Beautyberries typically grow four-feet tall in shade and eight-feet tall in full sun. Although it is not necessary to prune the plant, if pruning carried out in late winter, berry yields will be increased since berries are produced on new wood.
The plant’s attractive dark-green foliage turns yellow to reddish-purple in autumn.
The beautyberry’s small flowers are pale, lilac-colored. However, its unusual, brightly colored berries and pleasing fall foliage make it an attractive landscape planting. As such, if you are looking for wildlife food plant that will also provide a touch of unusual fall color, the American beautyberry may just be the ticket.