Texas Native Plant Week–Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala

In keeping with my native plants manifesto which you can read about here, I’m celebrating Texas Native Plant Week by profiling some of the native plants in my own gardens.  The information reflects what I’ve learned from the transformation of my traditional maintenance-heavy “yard” to a no-lawn, water-wise garden, featuring beautiful Texas native plants– which were the drivers and are the stars of that metamorphosis.

I grow lots of Rock RosePavonia lasiopetala, in my gardens.

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I say “grow”–Rock Rose grows itself and mostly, I let it.20120609_1.newThis small “evergreen” perennial  blooms late spring, throughout summer, and into fall and is a Texas tough plant.  Rock Rose flourishes in a variety of light situations, from shade, to dappled shade,

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to full sun, though it blossoms more in full sun.

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The pretty-in-pink flowers open early in the mornings and close for business by 3 or 4pm during the heat of summer.  The closing of those blooms is the plant’s response to heat and is a natural conservation measure.

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As cooler autumn months arrive, the blossoms will stay open until sundown.

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Rock Rose will seed out–really seed out, so if you don’t like that, it may not be the plant for you. I simply yank up the seedlings I don’t want and give them away, compost them, or transplant them.

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Rock Rose is one of those plants that I pop in difficult situations where I’m having problems figuring out what would work; it’s a staple plant in my gardens–good in so many situations.

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Rock Rose flowers on new wood, so after bloom cycles (which start in May) you can “deadhead” or prune the stems (6-8 inches) and the plant will flush out with new growth to start the next bloom cycle.  If you object to pruning, you can let Rock Rose continue to grow and it will bloom, but slightly less because it’s placing its energy toward seed production.  If left unpruned, the branches arch over, heavy with seeds and blooms.  Rock Rose is evergreen, though not a lush evergreen–green leaves remain on the shrub during winter; the plant is more woody than green.

When I prune my Rock Rose plants, I tidy and shape them a bit,

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…but Rock Rose is loveliest in its casual form, meaning that this is a perennial you don’t want to shape too much–let Rock Rose, be Rock Rose.

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Rock Rose attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds but isn’t a specific host plant to any particular critter.  It is moderately deer resistant and very drought resistant. Native to Central to South Texas,  I wouldn’t guarantee winter hardiness in the northern parts of Texas. It probably acts as an annual.

Don’t worry if it croaks during the winter though, I’m sure it will seed out.

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Texas Native Plant Week

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This week, October 19-25, is dedicated to celebrating home-grown native plants in geologically, topographically, and meteorologically diverse Texas.  My experience in gardening is limited mostly to urban gardens in Austin, but I also have limited knowledge about plants along the central Texas coast, owing to having grown up in that area.

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Texas is a big place–a really big place.

Natives that are completely at home in my gardens may not fare so well in the Panhandle or The Valley.  What works well in the High Desert mountains of West Texas definitely won’t like the humidity, drippy rain, and acidic soils of the East Texas Piney Woods. Native to here isn’t necessarily native to there.  Yes, there are crossover plants which thrive in vastly differing situations and there are plants which flourish worldwide.  I certainly grow some plants in my gardens whose ancestors originated halfway around the world. But when a gardener uses native plants, several valuable and aesthetic goals are accomplished.

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Native plants impart a sense of place.  My garden looks different from a garden in the Northeast or the Pacific Northwest–and it should. What grows for me should be different from what someone in Minnesota grows.  A home or commercial landscape in Arizona shouldn’t host the same plants as a garden in South Carolina.  Some natives exist only in a very specific area, while others range throughout much of North America, but all suggest a regionalism that defines a specific climate and geography–native plants identify place.

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Native plants require less irrigation and less chemical intervention.  Because native plants grow where they evolved, there’s no extra work in keeping native plants alive-except planting or seeding out the darn things, of course.  Other than some watering immediately after planting, a native perennial or annual usually survives without extra effort–extra watering, extra fertilizing, or extra babying.  The only plants I feed in my gardens are the pond plants and the roses; the entire process takes about 15 minutes, once per month.  I haven’t used any herbicide or other chemicals–well, I don’t think I’ve ever used a herbicide, and the last time I used a commercial fertilizer, excepting the aforementioned plants, was when I still had turf–and that’s some years ago. I do irrigate, sparingly, June-August, but that’s all the irrigation I give to my perennial gardens.

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For Texans who are happily riding on the native plants bandwagon, our primary gardening efforts tend to be in the winter and early spring–pruning, mulching, and readying our gardens for the long growing season.  Landscaping with native plants does require some work–they seed out (prolifically at times) and for the sake of tidiness, occasional pruning is a must. But the differential between landscaping with turf versus native plants is huge. When I observe the mowers in spring, summer, and fall, often perspiring as they pointlessly mow, edge, water and feed their grass–I’m befuddled. Why would you have grass, which requires weekly (or nearly weekly) maintenance, when there are so many beautiful, really beautiful, perennials, grasses, and annuals requiring little maintenance? What is the point of watering and fertilizing something, just so it can be mowed?  I used to have grass and only grass.  I used to mow, water, edge, fertilize–the whole absurd merry-go-round futility of turf–until I transformed my personal landscape with (primarily) native plants.

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Not everything in my garden is native–I grow plenty of native cultivars and non-native plants and they are some of my favorites.  But native plants are special–born and bred here in Texas. They are easy, lovely, and Texan and it doesn’t get better than that!  If you live elsewhere, then your native plants are easy, lovely, and…emblematic of the wonderful and special place that you live–wherever that might be.

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Native plants feed wildlife.  The synchronously of native plants with their pollinators and other wildlife partners is an established biological paradigm.  In any given area, wildlife evolved along with their plant hosts–it’s just that simple.  When you have native plants in your gardens, you will attract wildlife.  Boom!  The home gardener can play an important role in providing for wildlife by planting natives: as large swaths of land are destroyed for a variety of reasons, why not help heal the world, in a way that is very real and practical, by planting natives which will feed displaced wildlife?

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I putter in my gardens–constantly reviewing, reassesing, and replanting.  Gardening is my passion, it’s what I do.  I recognize that not everyone is a gardener and most are unlikely to do what I’ve done.  I have been called “crazy” more than once by those who don’t get what I’ve done with my “yard.”  However,  I can’t help but wonder what would happen with our beleaguered and threatened natural world if everyone who owns property, the proverbial house with yard, would take out half, just half, of their useless and wasteful turf and install native plants instead.  Think of how unique each home garden could be. Think of the water which would be conserved. Think of the fossil fuel which would not be used.  Think of the wildlife which would be fed.  Think of the locally owned nursery and landscape businesses which would boast more clients, rather than the large mowing companies and the big box stores siphoning off that work.

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I don’t see a downside to using native plants in the garden. One difficulty you might encounter is if you live where the local nurseries don’t yet provide a selection of native-to-your-area plants, you’ll need to request they do. Business axiom dictates that if customers demand products, businesses will provide those products.  It may take time and persistence, but the native plants ship is sailing and the savvy nursery owner or landscaper will climb aboard.

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This coming week, I’ll be profiling a fraction of the natives that I grow in my garden. These plants are perennials that are doing something “now”–blooming or berrying or generally looking good. Readers from elsewhere–you might be bored with this week’s posts, as I’m writing primarily for Texas viewers.  Hopefully though, you’ll be encouraged to discover what is native in your areas–many places now celebrate the use of native plants in home and commercial gardens.

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Native plants work.  They are beautiful, unique to region, and typically hardy and drought-tolerant.   There are many resources available to learn about native plants and their value; you can start by checking out the “Garden References” section on this blog’s menu.

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For more information about Texas Native Plant Week, take a look at the websites of the following organizations:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

National Wildlife Federation

Native Plant Society of Texas

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

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Go natives!

 

Bloom Day, October 2014

Summer has been reluctant to release its toasty grip on us in Texas, but the cool of autumn has mostly arrived. We’ve enjoyed a couple of refreshing cold fronts, dropping our temperatures into the ’50’s, with highs in the 70’s and ’80’s. The lingering warmth of September and early October didn’t damper blooms in my gardens, though. Joining Carol at May Dreams Gardens, I’m celebrating blooming stuff on this 15th of October.

There is no shortage of blooming native Texas plants in my gardens. Let’s take a tour, shall we?

Barbados Cherry, Malpighia glabra, has blossomed its dainty, pink clusters for a month or so now.

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Soon, cherry red fruits will replace blooms, feeding a whole different crop of critters. Barbados Cherry is lovely in tandem with Turk’s CapMalvaviscus arboreus.

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A cultivar of the native red Turk’s Cap, the Pam’s Pink Turk’s CapMalvaviscus ‘Pam Puryear’, blooms as heartily as the red,

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…but with softer pink swirls perched atop the long branches.   In my gardens, the Pam’s Pink is planted with FrostweedVerbesina virginica,

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….and it’s a successful pairing.   Frostweed is an excellent wildlife plant.   Attracting butterflies, like this migrating Monarch,

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…and bees,

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…and this guy, a Tachinid fly,

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…who you can see again on Wildlife Wednesday, a fun little wildlife gardening meme I host.  The next Wildlife Wednesday is November 5th.  Frostweed a stalwart native perennial; it’s drought hardy and works well in either shade or sun.

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The GoldeneyeViguiera dentata, is photogenic in the fall garden.

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Another perennial which attracts its share of pollinators,

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…these pretty yellow flowers evoke glorious autumn sunshine.

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They work and play well with other natives in my gardens,

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…like the Rock RosePavonia lasiopetala and Barbados Cherry. And who doesn’t love the tried and true combination of yellow and blue?

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This Goldeneye’s companion is the non-native Blue Anise Sage, Salvia guaranitica.  

The roses in my gardens are awake again after the heat of summer. I grow only water–wise antique or cultivar roses in my gardens.  If a rose can’t shrug off the heat and dry of the Texas summer, it’s out!  The Martha Gonzales Rose is one such beast.

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Named after a Navasota, Texas gardener, Martha Gonzales,

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…this rose is beautiful, fragrant, and tough. Martha grows in USDA zones 7a to 10b so it it’s appropriate in a wide range of situations.  If you only grow one rose, make it the Martha!

The Belinda’s Dream Rose, which is appropriate for USDA zones 5a to 10b,

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is the quintessential elegant pink rose. Fragrant and downright luscious, Belinda isn’t quite as hardy as the Martha, but still performs well for me.  Belinda gets a little peeky in summer, but picks up again with rain and softer temperatures.  Caldwell Pink Rose,

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looks dainty, but it’s no wilting beauty.  This poor thing, I’ve moved it four times–I think I’ve finally found its forever home.

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A migrating Monarch finds this Old Gay Hill Rose delightful,

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…and so do I.  Similar to the Martha Gonzales, the shrub is larger and the petals slightly (but only slightly) more pink than the Martha’s fire engine red petals.

I’m not a grow-only-native purest and host a number of non-native perennials in my gardens, like these Four O’Clocks, Mirabilis jalapa.  Considered a staple of the Southern garden, these are new to my gardens and were gifted to me by a gardening friend, TexasDeb at austin agrodolce.

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These lovely trumpets open late in the day, bloom all night, and close in the morning. Four O’clocks are fragrant and are such lovelies–I’m tickled to make room for them in my gardens.

Jewels of OparTalinum paniculatum, are another new-to-my-gardens perennial from TexasDeb.  Jewels are also an old-fashioned flower of the Southern garden.

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I love the teesny flowers, the “jewels” seeds, and chartreuse foliage. Both Four O’Clocks and Jewels of Opar are potentially invasive, so I’ll keep them in check–ripping out uninvited extras who crash my garden party!

It’s now that my Coral Vine, Antigonon leptopus, shines,

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…or is that a sparkle?  Whatever it is, the bees love this bloomer.

After each rain, the Almond Verbena, Aloysia virgata, flowers and its fragrance graces my garden.  Shown here in partnership with Turk’s Cap blooms, the Almond Verbena is favored by honeybees.

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My Almond Verbena is the anchor plant in a group of native shrubs and perennials.

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It fits quite well, I think.

Quoting another garden blogging buddy, Debra of Under the Pecan Trees,  we enjoy a “second spring” in Texas–a  lush blooming autumn gift, after the heat, when all, including gardeners, perk up anew.

What’s blooming in your gardens this October Bloom Day?  Check out May Dreams Gardens for blooms from everywhere.

 

I Grow (Some) Of My Own

I’ve enjoyed posts from participants of the “virtual garden club” Dear Friend and Gardener in recent months. Hosted jointly by Carol Michel of May Dreams Gardens, Mary Ann Newcomer of Gardens of the Wild, Wild West, and Dee Nash of Red Dirt Ramblings, this gardening club encourages gardeners who grow their own food and flowers.  The focus of Dear Friend and Gardener is on fruit, vegetable, and all manner of edible production, but can include ruminations on growing gorgeous flowers, nattering about native plants, or gabbing about garden design. By clicking on the badge to the right, you too can read adventures in edibles gardening and tales of culinary happenings.

My personal gardening interests lean primarily to learning about and experimenting with native Texas plants, water-wise landscaping, coupled with wildlife gardening. However,  I aim to produce some home-grown herbs and veggies.  It’s a mixed veggie bag for me because I don’t have many spots of full sun on my property, so my edibles real estate is limited.   This past year, I’ve experimented with growing vegetables, tomatoes, and herbs in a vertical garden, The Green Tower.  Click here to read about the design and building of our Green Tower (GT) and here, for a late summer update on how the GT worked as an edibles garden.

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Currently, for the fall garden, I have planted one Cherokee Purple tomato, which has some blossoms,

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and a cherry tomato,

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which has more blossoms.  The basil is crazy gorgeous,

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…I can’t eat enough of it. Really, I put those leaves in everything, it seems.  I think it’s way past time to make pesto.  Lots of pesto.

I left this pepper plant from last spring and it’s blooming,

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…but I’ll be surprised if it produces anything this late in the year.   The greens seeds that I’ve sprinkled on the top of the GT haven’t germinated at the rate that I’d hoped.  My plan was to seed three types of my favorite greens, let them germinate, then transplant to the sides of the GT for maturity and eventual harvest.  The plan might still work as we segue into cooler/wetter weather patterns, but so far, the Red Sails, Lactuca sativa, lettuce seedlings are the most successful,

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…and that’s not saying much.  The Italian Lacinato Kale, Brassica oleracea,  is a bit of a bust with a grand total of one seedling,

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…and it’s a big zilch for the Bloomsdale Spinach, Spinacia oleracea.  Ever hopeful, I’ve seeded out more of all of the above and here in Austin, it’s now consistently cooler and wetter–I hope.  Time will tell whether these greens will germinate and grow, but I can produce cool season greens throughout winter and into spring.

Aside from the honey that my little bees make (which really, I can’t take credit for) and some other herbs in planted in the perennial gardens, that’s it for me.  I like the idea of sharing my harvest, such as it is, with others–even if it is through cyberspace.

More about the fall/winter greens fest, if there is one, another time!

 

American Beautyberry, French Mulberry (Callicarpa americana)

Here in Texas, we don’t really enjoy traditional autumn colors from our trees and shrubs as is common in New England, the Midwest, or even the Pacific Northwest.  The   dramatic foliage mosaic that defines “fall” for many doesn’t occur for us in October. Our deciduous trees transform their leaf color in response to less light and colder temperatures, but that conversion isn’t until late November/December and transpires  over a longer stretch of time, versus the spectacular two or three-week performance in October typical to other parts of the United States.  However, we in Texas are gifted a second blooming period in the fall months (until the first hard freeze), which rivals our spring beauty. Accompanying that second bloom extravaganza, there are many trees and shrubs which berry, providing food for indigenous and migrating birds.  My favorite of the berrying shrubs is the American Beautyberry or French Mulberry, Callicarpa americana. Continuing with the series, A Seasonal Look, I would like to share my experiences with this wonderful native shrub.

American Beautyberry is a native deciduous shrub throughout the American South, including Texas.  It is usually a medium-sized shrub, but can grow quite large in cultivated gardens. My original plant,

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grew to about six feet tall and about ten feet across before it began a decline which continues, although the plant is still living.  This specimen,

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…planted in the Howson Library garden in Austin, isn’t as large as mine, but it is substantial. Beautyberry develops arching branches and is best left in its natural form; it’s not a plant you want to prune for “neatness.”  In this natural form, it provides cover for wildlife and that’s always a good thing.  Gardeners can prune the dormant shrub to about a foot from the ground in late winter if a more compact size is the goal. I’ve never pruned my Beautyberries, except for stem waywardness (that’s a quirky definition) and when stems died, as has happened with my original shrub.

Known primarily for the showy, purple berries or fruits which form in clusters along the branches,

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…the American Beautyberry is drought tolerant, a good wildlife plant, and a lovely landscape shrub for the Southern garden.  In late September, October, and November. it reaches the zenith of its beauty.   Those berries!

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They are quite something in the garden.  I’ve always thought they look otherworldly, not entirely natural.

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That’s a natural color?

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Yes, the color is of this world and the birds love the berries!  Usually in my garden, it’s the Mockingbirds who stake their claim to ownership of the berries, one or two Mocks fighting off other birds for the privilege of fine bird dining that the sumptuous berries provide. But I’ve also seen Blue Jays as well, swooping onto the shrub, then hopping from branch to branch, plucking and munching as they go. The berries are an unusual, bright, almost metallic, purple, and if the birds don’t eat them up within a few weeks, gardeners can enjoy their gorgeousness for quite a long time. I’ve read that the fruits can be made into jelly, but I haven’t tried that, nor have I ever tasted either the berries or jelly. There are also white-fruited Beautyberries–White American BeautyberryCallicarpa americana var. lactea.  At Zilker Botanical Garden, several grow in the Green Garden and I’ve seen White Beautyberries for sale at nurseries. I like them and more importantly, the birds like them, but the purple has my heart.

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Additionally, deer favor the leaves, so Beautyberry is not a good plant if you share your garden space with those particular mammals.  I said it was a good wildlife plant, didn’t I?

After the inevitable freeze, the berries (if birds have left any) shrivel up.  Also, after the first hard freeze, the foliage of the Beautyberry will turn yellow and drop.  The Beautyberry remains bare of leaves and (usually) of berries for the duration of winter.

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This specimen is my original plant.  It’s about eighteen years old and began declining about a year ago. The branches died, one by one, and I’ve prune most of them off.   Assuming that the original was on its way out, I planted a new Beautyberry in October 2013,

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….next to the original.  The new Beautyberry has the tall stem which towers over the the original, which is significantly shorter and with fewer branches.  The original shrub produced berries this year,

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…but the new Beautyberry didn’t, though it bloomed in early summer.  Along with this new specimen in my front garden, I planted another in the back garden.

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…which sports fruit clusters this fall (2014).  The back garden Beautyberry receives no direct sun, only dappled light,

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…and the Beautyberry in the front receives dappled light most of the day, then is blasted by the last of the west sun.  The soil in which it resides dries out during the summer.  I hand-watered when the Beautyberry looked pathetic and it’s weathered its first summer well.

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The back Beautyberry is situated in generally moist soil, because of shade and the clay content of the soil. I think that explains the difference in fruit production for this year, though I expect both shrubs will produce berries equally as the plants mature and the roots establish themselves. According the the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s page on American Beautyberry, this shrub prefers a moist, bottomland type of soil, but I’ve seen them planted in a variety of situations.  Beautyberries thrive in either sun or shade and varying soil types, but are drought tolerant in shade or part shade, requiring more irrigation with more sun exposure. Beautyberry is adaptable.  My father grows a huge one in Corpus Christi, in full sun, in sand.  He irrigates more than I do.

Once spring temperatures warm and the days lengthen, fresh, new leaves emerge. Tiny at first,

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…they grow rapidly to their full size.

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These photos show the newly planted Beautyberries from last spring, but established Beautyberry shrubs leaf out similarly. The leaves grow large, are thin rather than thick, and are light, bright green in color.  They form opposite from one another and are slightly serrated.  The leaves reportedly contain a chemical which repels insects from people and livestock. I haven’t tested that by crushing a leaf and spreading it on my skin, but I should,  as there are plenty of mosquitos in the gardens.

In May, the Beautyberry begins blossoming for about six weeks with delicate pink flowers.

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Flowering occurs at the nodes of the leaves,

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…and as the flowers fade,  the green fruits develop. The green berries remain on the main stem throughout summer.

The berries begin their gradual transformation to the iconic purple sometime in August,

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along the stems of the shrubs, cluster by cluster.

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And then–Shazamm!

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Those are some purple berries!

I confess that I get annoyed in those years when the birds snarf the berries within a week or two of the Great Purpling.  I wish they’d leave them, just a little longer, for me to enjoy.  But while I may long for and appreciate the beauty of the berries, the birds need the berries for sustenance.  I plant this beautiful native shrub for the birds–I can’t really complain when they do what I want them to do–eat the berries, fill their tummies, and spread Beautyberry joy throughout the land–or at least, throughout the neighborhood.

So goes a year in the life of an American Beautyberry.  It’s a desirable understory shrub–valuable for its landscape qualities and its importance for wildlife.  Plant one today!

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