American beautyberry is a native shrub that is gaining popularity among Georgia backyard wildlife enthusiasts. Sometimes called French mulberry, clusters of round magenta berries festoon the plant from late summer into winter. The berries are not only beautiful, but also serve as food for hungry gray catbirds, northern mockingbirds, cardinals as well as other birds and mammals.
Now it seems we have another reason to admire American beautyberry. Researchers with the United States Department of Agriculture have discovered that the beautyberry’s leaves contain a chemical that repels mosquitoes.
This remarkable finding is due to a conversation Charles Bryson, a botanist that works for the Southern Weed Science Program in Stoneville, had with researchers with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Products Utilization Unit at Oxford, Mississippi. Bryson told the researchers that his grandfather, John Rives Crumpton, related to him that back in the day farmers in Northeast Mississippi were able to keep worrisome biting insects away from mules and horses by placing crushed beautyberry leaves beneath the leather harnesses of their animals. This led folks to crumple beautyberry leaves and rub them on their own skin.
This fascinating story led chemists to attempt to isolate the chemical that seemingly had the remarkable ability to repel pesky insects. One of the chemicals they were able to isolate was callicarpenal. When the efficaciousness of the chemical was tested, it was found to be just as effective in repelling mosquitoes as the popular repellent DEET.
Indeed the American beautyberry is more than an attractive native food plant.