Beautyberry, French Mulberry
Verbenaceae (traditional classification) (alternatively Lamiaceae)
The well named Beautyberries are looking so beautiful that the spotlight must fall on them today. The main photo is John’s work, taken in the natural area entered through Bert Winters Park in Juno Beach.
Anyone who has ever been outdoors knows that many plants make berries, often abundantly, but Beautyberry is the superstar in terms of volume and color. Who is eating all those little beauties? Lots of critters, mammals and birds. One of the main Beautyberry-eaters is the American bobwhite. Wild turkeys gobble them up. And so forth, from songbirds to raccoons.
To set the record straight, technically speaking, the beautiful fruits are not berries, but rather drupes, but who would name such a fancy shrub “Beautydrupe”?
Why so drupe-prolific? For a broad answer, the biological world is divided into what some biologists refer to as r-strategists and K-strategists. The r in r-strategist stands for “rate” (of reproduction). R-strategists spawn a lot of offspring fast, spreading them abundantly in the world to launch the next generation. The investment is in quantity, not in quality, a shotgun approach. These are rats, dandelions, and tadpoles in the kiddie pool. R-strategists tend to be pioneers, species that exploit disturbed habitats before the competition intensifies. R-ish plants tend to be broad in soil tolerances, sun-loving, abundant in production of small cheap easily dispersed fruits, and able to flower on young growth. You know, like Beautyberry.
By contrast, K-strategists (the K stands for Karrying Kapacity) are species of undisturbed highly competitive habitats—for instance mature forests. Here it is better to put the parental investment into quality of offspring, that is, providing nurture or whatever it takes to achieve a successful launch in a competitive world: nut trees (with big fleshy seeds), elephants, and gray-haired parents with children in college.
Beautyberry has a lot of “r” in its spirit. Grow anywhere. Rise up with moxie and flower and fruit quickly. Make oodles of showy little berries. Induce lots of birds and rodents to drop the seeds all over the place. Invade disturbed sites. With foliage out of the way in the cooler berry-show months, the plant’s gimmick seems to be advertising. Those big clusters of candy-colored berries must draw birds from afar, and when in an open disturbed area look like a come-on to entire migrating flocks.
A second way Beautyberry faces disturbed habitats is robust recovery from fire (which it seems to like), heavy browsing, and other trauma. Foresters call this shrub a moderately shade-intolerant “early- to mid-seral” species, which means it is at its best early after disturbance, persisting to partial forest regeneration, and declining during later maturation. Flowering and fruiting all occur on the growth of the current season, including the sprouts rising from fires, creating a cheery decorative effect in the charred landscape. A weed, but a mighty fine one.
Callicarpa is about as prolific in species as it is in fruits. We have just one species here, scattered across the Southern U.S. and a little beyond. China has 48 species out of a worldwide total of 140 callicarpas. Mind boggling for sure.
We like to think of native plants as comparatively free of pests, but BB does have an interesting one. What seems to be a viral infection is occasionally apparent in the leaves, but home-made, duffer-level Google searching leads about as far as, yep, there’s a virus, not adequately studied.
Gardeners like Beautyberry for obvious reasons, and it crops up in residential landscaping, although the rapid growth makes it challenging. Those with a horticultural inclination should be aware also of the White Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana var. lactea, sometimes also called ‘Albofructus’.
In class this week we had a debate on what is the exact name for that color? The proof was that guys don’t know colors. Maybe a new color should be named “Callicarpa.” Would make a cool eye shadow.