Purple beautyberry is an unusual, lesser-known, and hard-to-find shrub with so many nice traits that it's surprising it's not more well known. In my garden, whenever someone sees it, they invariably ask me, "What is that?"
Its best attribute and what really catches the eye about this shrub is its abundant berries. The berries are a unique bright lavender-violet, a color distinctive to this shrub. They are quite a surprise when they begin to show their color in early autumn. At first look, they almost don't look real! Its color is unique among berried plants.
The berries begin as pale green and gradually change to lavender-violet throughout autumn. The clusters of small, glossy berries are held opposite each other all along each stem above the foliage, from the base of the stem right to the tip. The berries closest to the center of the plant begin to show color first. The last to change are those right at the stem tips. The berries are colorful while the leaves are still on the shrub, creating a beautiful contrast between the green leaves and purple berries. The berries persist on the shrub well into winter after the leaves have dropped. They are even more striking when a light layer of snow coats them and any plant that can provide winter interest here in New England is definitely worth growing in the garden. The striking purple berries are showy from September through March.
Of course, where there are berries, there had to have been flowers first. Purple beautyberry bears small, frothy, lavender-pink flowers almost all summer from late June to August. The flowers appear all along its stems where the leaves join the stems. The individual tiny flowers are not all that showy, but there is an abundance of them lining the stems.
Another nice attribute about purple beautyberry is its autumn foliage. Its small, light-green leaves change to a pale yellow blushed with purple and pink. The combination of autumn foliage and berries is enough to turn heads. The fall foliage is long lasting, providing a colorful show for many weeks in fall. Leaves drop by mid autumn, leaving bare stems lined with dozens of clusters of berries.
As if it didn't have enough going for it already, purple beautyberry is also a small shrub that only grows three to four feet tall with a slightly greater spread. Because of its small, manageable size, it's the perfect choice for a mixed flower bed or border as well as small garden spaces. It has slender branches that arch gracefully outward from the center of the plant. Outer branches reach to the ground, creating a cascading appearance.
Purple beautyberry should be planted where its beauty can best be displayed and enjoyed throughout the year. In my garden, I'm growing purple beautyberry in a couple of different garden areas.
I have one growing in a mixed border where its arching stems drape gracefully over the lower plants growing in front of it. In winter, when the perennials are dormant and the annuals are gone, the bare stems lined with purple berries immediately jump forward and become the focal point of the border. The other one is growing in front of a large dwarf Alberta spruce that provides a green backdrop that sets off the colorful berries, especially in winter. I like purple beautyberry so much that I'll be planting another one before the ground freezes.
Purple beautyberry is also an excellent specimen shrub, planted alone where it can really show off. Set off against a layer of snow, the arching bare stems lined with clusters of purple berries shine. It's also impressive when mass planted in large groups.
This is an easy, carefree shrub. It's not bothered by insect or disease. All it really needs is well-drained soil. It actually does best in infertile soil, so soil improvement is not necessary. It grows well in full sun to light shade. Mine are both growing in part shade. Here's a tip for best fruit display. Cut back the stems to about six inches above the ground in late winter while the shrub is still dormant. This will generate numerous new stems in spring and since purple beautyberry flowers and fruits on new wood, this will result in huge quantities of berries come autumn.
© Copyright Pernell Gerver, Horticultural Communication Services All rights reserved.