BeautyberryBotanical name: Callicarpa...


October 12, 1991|By Amalie Adler Ascher


Botanical name: Callicarpa japonica

Pronunciation: kal-e-CARP-uh

Family: Verbenaceae (Verbena)

Origin: Japan

Class: Shrub

Display period: September, October

Height: 5 to 6 feet

Environment: Sun, light shade

Callicapra attains its glory in the fall. Until then, it's a rather mediocre plant, its twiggy branches flopping all around it, its foliage non-descript. But wait. When it radiates with spectacular magenta berries those same awkward branches metamorphose into graceful arching ones, and the plain green leaves become trappings for setting off the fruit.

I bought my callicarpa many years ago for cutting and planted it in the only vacant spot available. It was at the rear corner of a bed and partly hidden behind a 10-foot tall taxus tree. Given the shrub's undistinguished appearance for a large part of the year, the position was a good one. At fruiting time, the berries, which have a metallic glow, would assert themselves, peeping through the veil of the thin evergreen needles like a beacon of light.

The berries cling to the branches long after the plant's yellowing leaves have dropped. The berries dry after the branches are cut. Their luster then dims to a mellow purple shade.

Callicapra's name, deriving from the Greek, "kalos," meaning, beautiful, and "karpos," for fruit, describes the plant's asset. Its flowers, so tiny they're obscured by the foliage, are hardly noticed.

Introduced from Japan in 1845, callicarpa also occurs in a species (C. americana) native to Maryland and other parts of the United States. Although popularly known as French mulberry, the plant is neither French nor a mulberry. C. dichotoma, considered the best of the breed, offers shorter height and a more refined presence.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.