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The Truce About Beautyberries

Rebekah Heppner, Master Gardener Volunteer Trainee

cat looking at cardinal through window

Author’s cat watching cardinal eating beautyberries.

No, that’s not a typo. I don’t meant truth, I mean truce. As in the truce my cats (who live on the inside of my screen porch) and the birds (who live outside of it) have reached. I planted beautyberry, Callicarpa americana several years ago and quickly realized I put it too close to the porch. Whenever a bird landed on it, attracted by those beautiful dark purple berries, one of my two cats would lose his mind and jump at the screen, scaring the poor birds away. I was disappointed, since the only reason I plant plants is to feed the birds, bees and butterflies. But I did get to enjoy the beauty of the berries for a few months that year. And the next year, and the next and, well, every year until this year. The birds are either getting braver, or the cats are getting complacent—or maybe they are just tired of hunting birds they can’t catch. 

beautyberry with purple fruit

Beautyberry, photo: Theresa Badurek, UF/IFAS Extension, Pinellas County

Whatever the reason, this year I have cardinals, mockingbirds and finches eating the berries and the cats mostly ignore them. I also have wild coffee, Psychotria nervosa, that has volunteered in several places in my yard. Those shrubs are starting to get heavy with beautiful red berries. They are further from the porch, yet I’ve never seen birds on them. The cats better hope that changes soon, as the beautyberries are going fast. Since a flock (or is it a charm?) of house finches found my feeders, my bird seed budget is getting very close to the cat food budget. I’m not sure I can afford to feed them both.