Callicarpa americana L.

Beauty Berry

Callicarpa americana plant

Family - Verbenaceae

Habit - Shrub, incompletely monoecious.

Stems - Ascending or arching, to 1.5 m, stout, scurfy and densely hairy with short-stalked stellate or dendritic hairs, these sometimes wearing off with age.

Callicarpa americana stemStem with dendritic hairs.

Leaves - Opposite, petiolate, simple. Petioles 5-35 mm, longer than inflorescence stalks, usually densely stellate-hairy. Blades 5-23 cm, broadly ovate or elliptic, tapered at base, sharply pointed, coarsely and usually bluntly toothed, the surfaces stellate-pubescent, the undersurface inconspicuously glandular, the upper surface becoming glabrous with age.

Callicarpa americana leaf1Leaves, adaxial.

Calicarpa americana leavesPressed leaves.

Inflorescences - Small, dense, axillary, paniculate clusters of numerous flowers, the stalk 1-5 mm long.

Callicarpa americana inflorescence2Inflorescence.

Flowers - Calyces actinomorphic, cup-shaped, 1.5-1.8 mm long, very shallowly 4-lobed, the lobes broadly triangular. Corollas actinomorphic, 4.0-4.5 mm long, light pink to pale purple or blue, the 4 lobes shorter than the tube. Stamens 4, present (but not necessarily functional) in all flowers, exserted, all similar in size, the filaments attached at the base of the corolla tube, the anthers small, the connective very short, the pollen sacs 2, parallel, yellow. Ovary present only in functionally pistillate flowers, unlobed, the style appearing terminal. Style exserted, unbranched at the tip, the stigma more or less capitate to peltate-flattened.

Callicarpa americana calycesCalyces.

Callicarpa americana flowers2Flowers.

Callicarpa americana flowers

Fruits - Fleshy, globose drupes 3-6 mm in diameter, the outer surface purplish red to pinkish purple, sometimes bluish-tinged, shiny, the stone eventually separating into usually 4 nutlets

Callicarpa americana fruitsFruit clusters.

Flowering - June - August.

Habitat - Ledges, bluff tops, forest openings. Occasionally cultivated.

Origin - Native to U.S.

Lookalikes - None.

Other info. - Except in cultivation, this species is rare in Missouri. It is a species primarily of the southeastern U.S., and the far south of Missouri is on the very edge of its range. It is an example of a plant which is showier in fruit than in flower, and is cultivated for the attractive clusters of purple fruits. When in fruit it is impossible to mistake for anything else. It is also fairly distinctive in flower, with the dense dendritic hairs on young twigs also a characteristic feature.

Steyermark believed that the last wild populations of the plant in Missouri were threatened by the proposed Table Rock Dam, and passionately opposed this project. Populations known to him were indeed subsequently wiped out by the formation of Bull Shoals Lake in the early 1950s. However, small populations still exist on bluffs above the water line, and elsewhere in the extreme south of the state.

There are reports that mature fruits of beautyberry are edible, but not very palatable, being bitter and astringent. They are consumed by birds and other wildlife as a survival food, though usually not until other food sources have been depleted. Chemical constituents extracted from the plant include callicarpenal, a terpene aldehyde which has been shown to repel mosquitoes and fire ants. Parts of the plant were also used by Native American tribes for various medicinal purposes, including for treatment of malaria and rheumatism.

Photographs taken in Winter Haven, Fl., 6-18-02; also at the Runge Nature Center near Jefferson City, Cole County, MO, 9-18-2015, LaBarque Creek Conservation Area, Jefferson County, MO, 7-18-2016, and Shaw Nature Reserve, Franklin County, MO, 10-11-2016 (SRTurner).


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