For your consideration: American beautyberry
Two reasons homeowners may veer toward the purchase of exotic plants rather than Florida natives are that they are readily available in big box stores and, as examples such as Hibiscus rosa-sinensis and Ixora spp. demonstrate, look quite fetching when in bloom. What some homeowners may not realize is that there are a number of native plants which are equally eye-catching. For your consideration, one such example of a stunning native plant that thrives in Southwest Florida and adds color and interest to the landscape from late spring into winter, Callicarpa americana, also known as American beautyberry.
The deciduous Ameri-can beautyberry has a lot going for it. Its draping canopy offers shelter for small animals and birds. The bush has lovely lavender blooms that attract butterflies and native bees in spring and summer, followed by long-lasting, fleshy, clustered purple fruits, also known as drupes, autumn to winter. Even as the leaves fall in the cooler months, the fruit clusters hang on and can easily last for weeks when left undisturbed.
Beautyberry leaves can prove useful as a natural insect repellent, either crushed and applied to the skin or incorporated into one of various recipes. As a precaution, consider your level of skin sensitivity before application. What works well for one person may be an irritant for another.
American beautyberry is ideal if you are looking to attract our winged friends to your garden, because many native birds love the savory fruit morsels. Although not particularly tasty off the bush for humans, the fruit can be harvested for use in tasty jams and jellies with a number of recipes available online. The only challenge to this is getting to the morsels before the birds eat them all!
Applying organic additives, such as compost, to compensate for the lack of nutrients existing in the soil of most Southwest Florida residential areas before planting will allow Callicarpa americana to do quite well in the landscape. It will also do well in a sufficiently large, well-draining container with proper attention. It does best in soil having a five to seven pH range, i.e., acidic to neutral. The bush is drought tolerant once established and disease and pest resistant.
Preferring a sunny to part shade location, beautyberry enjoys a moderate rate of growth in the landscape and averages 4 to 8 feet in height and width at maturity. It can be pruned to control size, with the best time for pruning old wood winter to early spring. Pruning during this time will make way for the flowers to develop on new growth. Propagation can be accomplished with either seeds or soft stem cuttings.
American beautyberry is, indeed, a colorful, multi-purpose addition to the garden. For more information regarding this great native plant, visit https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/trees-and-shrubs/shrubs/beautyberry.html.
Janetta Fox is a Lee County Master Gardener volunteer and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.