French mulberry – An American beauty

Published 7:35 pm Saturday, October 1, 2016

My first encounter with this native plant was when I was about 10 years old. It was a family tradition to pack a lunch and head to Little Mountain, a park near Ackerman, for a fall picnic. My Dad would take us on all the walking trails, pointing out native plants along the way. 

It wasn’t just the beautiful purple berries that made this plant a favorite, but the Indian folklore that Dad added to the story. He told us that the crushed leaves rubbed on the skin could repel ticks and mosquitoes and the root was used to treat stomachaches. From that day forward, American Beautyberry, also called French Mulberry had become unforgettable.

The scientific name for American Beautyberry is Callicarpa Americana. The genus name, Callicarpa, is derived from Latin and means “beautiful fruit.” This plant is aptly named; the purple or magenta colored fruit are produced in profusion. The nodes of the stems are literally encircled by the fruit clusters. Ripening occurs over an extended length of time, making this plant an excellent choice for naturalistic or woodland gardens.

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The seeds and berries are important foods for many species of birds including bobwhite, towhee, cardinal and mockingbird. Butterflies are attracted to the early summer flowers and the foliage is a favorite of white tailed deer.

American Beautyberry is very drought tolerant and grows in a variety of soils but is best suited to rich woods in partially shaded locations. If used as an ornamental, stems should be cut near the ground early in spring to produce the best crop of berries.

Fall is fabulous in Mississippi. Many of our native plants are in their full glory. Load your kids in the car, pack a picnic and head to one our beautiful State Parks. Make memories as my parents did for us. 

Rebecca Bates is director of the Lincoln County Cooperative Extension Service. To contact her, call 601-835-3460