October Plant of the Month is Beautyberry: Callicarpa americana, (ka-lee-KAR-pa a-mair-ee-KAY-na)
When walking on the grounds these days it’s easy to identify our native Beautyberry from the purple berry clusters weighing down the branches. These shrubs are located all over the Museum’s property; locations include the bottom of Dogwood Trail and the East Terrace as well as the top of Art Trail. These shrubs produce small fragrant pink flowers in the spring, but their real beauty is currently on display and will continue into the winter. The plant grows roughly 5’x5’, but can reach 9’ tall in the right growing conditions, which are part shade with moist soils. Beautyberry is native here and pretty stinkin’ tough! If you enjoy a more compact shape or simply want to re-energize an older shrub, the Beautyberry can be heavily pruned right before new growth, in the late winter to early spring.
The wildlife are just as drawn to the Beautyberry as we are–squirrels have been known to break off entire branches and go tearing through the woods to enjoy a feast. Opossums, armadillos, wood rats, grey foxes, deer, raccoons, and of course birds such as bobwhite quail, mockingbirds, robins, blue jays, towhees, and brown thrashers all enjoy these berries/leaves too. This is obviously a valuable plant for our wildlife and it definitely ain’t deer resistant!
Throughout history, nearly every part of this plant has been used for medicinal purposes. Native Americans would make a tea from the roots to combat stomach aches, another tea from the berries to treat colic, even the root bark could substitute as a diuretic, and the list goes on… These days scientists are looking to plants for a variety of reasons. Recently a study published by the Journal of Natural Products in ’07 suggests that Beautyberry has cancer-fighting potential, and research is being conducted by the USDA which has concluded that three naturally occurring chemicals found in the leaves of Beautyberry are as effective as DEET at repelling mosquitos, ticks, and ants. So put down that bottle of insect repellent and instead pick some leaves to combat these pesky bugs. (Did you know that DEET, also known by the chemical name N,N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide, is potentially neurotoxic to humans as well? That’s how it works! DEET disrupts the central nervous system of insects, and since the skin is like a million mouths, doesn’t it make sense that whatever you put on your skin is going straight into your bloodstream?!) Some other natural insect repellents include the oils from allspice, basil, cedar, garlic, citronella, cinnamon, geranium, lavender, neem, peppermint, pine, rosemary, thyme, and verbena. So lay off the bug spray! Learn more @ http://www.naturalnews.com/026982_DEET_insect_repellent_brain.html#ixzz2g2A3fcQC Sincerely, Sam