As most of you know by now, I’m a summer girl. So fall, while beautiful, just reminds me that winter is all that much closer. This year, in fact, winter came DURING fall. I am still recovering from 15½ inches of snow and five days without power, and it’s only early November. So anyway, Beautyberry, or Callicarpa, as it is known in Latin, is one of those plants that make autumn tolerable for me. So let me tell you a bit about it.
I first met Callicarpa in a nursery, and I thought it was either a joke or one of those hybrid experiments with modern, neon, loud color. I bought it anyway. That was in my old house and old garden. It’s a scrawny bush with no real spring or winter interest, but then, in the fall it gets these gorgeously garish purple berries on the stems. When I moved, I thought I’d never bring something so non-native-looking to my woodland paradise garden. Imagine my surprise when I came across a botanical drawing of it in the amazing book The Brother Gardeners: A Generation of Gentleman Naturalists and the Birth of an Obsession, by Andrea Wulf (Vintage, 2010). First of all, the book is a great one in general about how the whole British gardening craze got started and was fueled by people like John Bartram, who scoured the new America to send plants, seeds, cuttings, and trees over the ocean to the plant-mad Brits. Second, reading its history of Callicarpa showed me just how wrong I was about the plant’s origins.
But that’s not what made me run out and buy a dozen of them. What I found was that beautyberry is one of the only plants on record that is known to repel ticks!
So, the seductive combination of intrigue, history, and utility has put Callicarpa at the top of my fall favorites list.
What’s on your fall favorites list? C’mon, I need some reasons to love fall again!