Q: My neighbor tells me I have beautyberry in my yard but I think it is pokeweed. Can you tell me the difference between these two plants?
A: Once you know how to identify a beautyberry I am sure you will never forget it. American beautyberry, Callicarpa Americana, as its name indicates is native to North America. There are various other species from Asia and Central America. American beautyberry is found throughout the southern part of the U.S. in home gardens and natural areas. It grows well in light shade but can tolerate some direct sun. We have it growing in the UF/IFAS Nassau County Demonstration garden in some sun. It is currently full of berries so take some time to go see the garden along with other plants now blooming such as crape myrtle, loropetalum, plumbago, blanket flower, and firecracker. It has the potential to reach heights up to 8 feet with an equal spread. It grows well in just about any type of soil but will flower and fruit better in organic soil. It is deciduous but the leaves will provide beautiful fall colors before dropping. Do not be fooled in thinking the plant has died – it will return once the spring temperatures arrive.
The easiest way to tell the difference between the two plants is to look at the fruit. The fruit of beautyberry, which is attached almost directly on the stem just above the leaf node, is eaten by birds and many small rodents. Pokeweed, Phytolacca Americana, is also native to North America but the fruit is produced on a long stalk. The berries and seeds are poisonous. Although the leaves have been used in the past for food (Poke Salad Annie) it must be processed appropriately or it can be dangerous.