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Linda Naeve, Reiman Gardens, (515) 294-8946,
Jean McGuire, Continuing Education and Communication Services, (515) 294-7033,

Reiman's Pick For the week of Sept. 27, 2004

Purple Beautyberry Offers Unusual Fall Color

By Linda Naeve
Reiman Gardens
Iowa State University Extension

Spectacular color throughout landscapes and hillsides will soon be delighting us as fall approaches. But you don't always need to look skyward for this beauty as the ripening fruit on many shrubs, such as purple beautyberry, exhibit fall splendor of its own.

Callicarpa dichotoma's common name, purple beautyberry, is a perfect description of the fruit on this uncommon shrub. This plant is also called Chinese Beautyberry because it is native to eastern and central China and Japan.

The purple beautyberry has several interesting changes that occur during a growing season. In mid-summer, clusters of small lavender flowers appear uniformly spaced along the stem on current season's wood. After the flowers fade, small green berry-like drupes develop and ripen into bold purple fruit. The fruit remains on the plant after the leaves have dropped for winter. The bright green leaves radiate out flat from the branches so that the fruit clusters are revealed along the stem. Not only do the berries add color to a drab winter landscape, they are also a welcome food source for birds.

Hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 5, the branches of purple beautyberry may die during harsh winters. Fortunately, spring is the best time to prune this flowering shrub. Remove old wood and dead branches; within a few weeks, the plant will sprout new shoots that quickly grow from the base of the cut branches.

Purple beautyberry plants grow three to four feet tall and nearly six feet wide to form tidy mounds of slightly arching branches. Due to its short stature, it is not effective as a single specimen plant, however, it makes a dramatic statement when planted in rows or groupings of three or more.

Purple beautyberry is easy to grow. It does well in full sun and partial shade and in most soil types. Leaf spots and other fungi may attack the foliage, but are not serious problems and do not affect the overall health of the plant.

Although purple beautyberry is hardy to the southern half of the state it is often overlooked as a border hedge in Iowa landscapes and gardens. Additionally, it is well-suited for raised plants or along the edge of a wall because the branches will gracefully droop over the edge.

"It is one of the most graceful and refined shrubs in the autumn landscape," says Michael Dirr, professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia.
If purple is not your favorite color, 'Albifructus' is an attractive white-fruited form with lighter green foliage and white flowers. It grows taller than standard beautyberry and can reach six to eight feet in height.

A row of purple beautyberry shrubs planted along the white picket fence at the Marge Hunziker House at Iowa State University's Reiman Gardens clearly demonstrates their value in the garden. The shrubs stunning clusters of purple berries exemplify the unique beauty of fruits in the fall landscape.


Editors: A color photo, suitable for publication, is available at right. Click on the thumbnail photo to go to the fullsized photo. The picture's fullsize photo is 388K.

Caption: Purple Beautyberry shrubs add color to the fall landscape with clusters of purple berries that adorn its branches like bright studded jewels. The fruit persists through November and is a welcome food source for birds. It grows three to four feet tall with a mounded, arching growth habit.

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