Beautyberries in Our Cape May Garden

Cape May, NJ – My sister can walk right by a bed of beautiful, summer blooming perennials without a nod.  For her, plants just don’t exist.

Yet recently, she came to a stop in our Cape May garden, stared hard at a shrub along the path and demanded to know “What is this?”

“This” was a beautyberry.


Beautyberries, both native and Asian varieties, blend into the landscape for much of the year. Then, just when everything else is fading in the fall,  the beautyberries come to the rescue with their long branches of striking purple or white berries.

Plant aficionados know the shrub as Callicarpa. You don’t see it much in Cape May County.

I first saw it years ago, when we were visiting Asheville, North Carolina in the autumn. I also said “What is this?”

And then, I started planting it.

Imagine how delighted Garden Partner was, that very first autumn, when he watched a tiny Hermit Thrush stop by the shrub every day to nibble on a few berries.

Imagine my dismay when, the following autumn, after I had waited patiently all summer for the berries to appear, a throng of hungry, migrating robins descended on the bush and stripped it of berries in under an hour.

A weaker gardener would have thrown in the trowel.  I dug in my heels and started planting more beautyberries. – Callicarpa Americana, Callicarpa Dichotoma, Early Amethyst, Profusion, Issai, Alba,  Heavy Metal, even variegated.

I became a gardener obsessed.

This fall, I’m waiting to see if the white berries last longer than the purple ones, if the Japanese variety proves more distasteful than the Chinese or American varieties.  I am watching and waiting, preparing for the inevitable day when I walk outside to see bare branches once again.

I don’t begrudge the birds their food.

I just hope, this year,  they have the good manners to leave a little for me.


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About Jane Kashlak

Jane Kashlak is a journalist, a gardener and a Cape Island resident. She's also Cape May Times' photographer. She founded Cape May Times after a long and lively career in TV news.