Having some very shady areas in our gardens, we are constantly on the lookout for plants that add color. The native American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is a gorgeous shrub that prefers shade and, by autumn, produces magenta berries that are more spectacular than many flowers. Also called French mulberry, this deciduous plant grows about 3 feet tall under the less than optimum conditions in our yard, but I've seen it much larger when it grows near water, such as along Town Lake here in Austin.
The one major drawback of beautyberry is that it requires extra water. Although it can survive droughts, it loses many leaves and produces fewer blossoms and berries. If grown in the sun and given plenty of water, it will thrive, but the berries become faded after only a few days in the intense light. We actually had another kind of beautyberry that was a bit more delicate, grew faster, and had more lilac colored berries. This one died after a few years either due to heat stress or a winter freeze.
After putting out leaves in the early spring, the shrub begins producing blossoms in clusters at the base of each new leaf junction. These are a delicate pink, and rather small. The branches continue to grow, producing leaves, blossoms and berries, until the weather turns too hot and/or the plant doesn't receive enough water to continue. Our beautyberry generally has only 4 to 6 clumps of berries on each branch, but, as the photo at right shows, if the plant has adequate conditions, it can grow all summer long. During the latter part of summer, the berries are formed in tight bunches but remain green. It isn't until fall that they change color, but they then stay on the branches for quite a while, even after the leaves have dropped for the season. Of course, the berries eventually disappear as birds eat them, but ours often last well into winter.