Aptly named Beautyberry is one of the best for birds

April 14, 2021

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And sometimes the imitator goes one better than the original. Otis Redding's song "Respect" became a major hit when Aretha Franklin rerecorded it in 1967. Aretha's version not only changed the tune, but a few of the lyrics. While the original version talks of a desperate man who will give his woman anything she wants, as long as she gives him respect, Aretha Franklin's version declares the strength of the woman, the woman who knows that she has everything her man wants, and she demands his "respect."

In the garden we have visitors who cover songs of other birds. These are the northern mockingbirds that can imitate up to 400 different noises, everything from the song of a meadow lark to the shriek of a hawk. Their imitation doesn't stop with bird songs, and they have been known to mimic deep-throated frogs as well as car alarms, and even washing machines.

Mockingbirds rarely visit bird feeders, instead preferring berries. You can attract mockingbirds and other song birds by planting blackberry, elderberries and even juniper trees. They also eat a fair share of insects, including pests such as beetles, caterpillars and grasshoppers. In the winter mockingbirds feed on berries.

One of the best berries for birds is the aptly named Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana L).

The bushes will grow three to eight feet tall with an equal spread. You can prune them to keep them short. Only prune them before they bloom or you won't get any berries. The light-green deciduous leaves are coarse and fuzzy.

In the spring tiny flowers develop into clusters of stunning brilliant magenta berries that stay on the bush even after the leaves drop in the fall. These winter berries feed not only mockingbirds, but also warblers, catbirds, robins, towhees and hermit thrush.

There are several varieties of beautyberry with different-colored fruits. For stunning color try Early Amethyst Beautyberry with bright-purple berries. At just three to four feet tall, this cultivar is smaller than most and will fit into even a tiny yard.

Plant beautyberry in full sun or partial shade. They prefer deep, rich soil with lots of organic matter, but will also grow in poor soil, even sandy beach soils. Once established these shrubs are drought-tolerant. They do well as part of a border or as a stand-alone specimen plant. Try putting your beautyberry in front of a window where you can enjoy the birds feeding.

The plants are hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8.

Birds not only feed on the berries, but help spread beautyberry plants by dropping seeds.

Once fully ripe, American beautyberry berries can be eaten raw, but more commonly are made into delicate jelly that has flavor compared to rose petals.

Plant the native shrub Beautyberry and you will have a carefree, hardy bush that will attract berry-loving birds, including the Northern Mockingbird. They will soon get to know you personally because mockingbirds can tell one person from another within a minute of meeting them.

As thanks for giving them the perfect food, the Northern mockingbirds will give you just what Aretha Franklin said: "R-E-S-P-E-C-T".


  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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