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Berry happy

Callicarpa Americana is as amazing as it looks

A thoughtful friend got me a wild game cookbook for Christmas. I was reading through the recipes when I came across a recipe for American Beauty Berry jelly.

Sounding familiar (the berry), I remembered that Pinky (a fellow Master Gardener Volunteer) had sent fall pictures of her woods. Sure enough, there was an American Beauty Berry bush (Callicarpa Americana). It also is called the French Mulberry. I began the hunt for information on this amazing bush.

It is amazing in its looks. It blooms in the early summer, hardly noticed, but then in the fall there are groupings of berries stationed along the stems, showing the most incredible purple/deep pink / fuscia color you can imagine.

It is amazing in that these berries are full of nutrients. They are sought after by birds throughout the winter as a rich source of needed nutrients. This beautiful bush is hardy to zone 6, which is the zone for our area.

Though it grows in an arching, weeping habit, it can be cut back after all berries are gone to 6 inches, only to grow again. In many southern states, this bush is browsed upon by livestock. They will eat the twigs in winter and also the leaves in summer.

There are varieties that have berries that come in white, and in purple, but the raspberry is my favorite. It is fast growing, a native perennial shrub up to 5 to 8 feet tall and wide. The leaves are a rich source of protein (18 percent in the spring dropping to 8 percent in the fall. They are ovate with saw toothed edges and woolly hairy underside. The stems are four-sided.

Folklore passed down tells that farmers used to rub the leaves on horses’ bridles as a mosquito repellant and on their own bodies as well. Science proves this tale as a fact. There are two compounds found in the leaves that act as a repellent: callicarperral and intermedeol.

American Beauty Berry likes moist areas, under a canopy, but not deep shade. Do not fear pruning this shrub, as it only blooms on new wood. Thus, it survives and blooms in our area. It is long-lived. While the berries are edible, they are also an astringent — they are edible, but not palatable, according to the University of Florida fact sheet. They can make your mouth very dry shortly after eating them. Thus, they are commonly made into jelly or preservatives.

I am now on the hunt for a couple of these amazing shrubs to plant this spring. Georgia made it the 2018 Plant of the Year. If you want to learn more about this shrub, just go to http://go.osu.edu/beautyberry.

Hughes is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.

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