Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

American beautyberry fruit clusters

with 64 comments

There’s nothing to carp at in the ripe fruits of Callicarpa americana, called American beautyberry. I found this bush along the upper reaches of Bull Creek on September 2nd. Light filtering through the surrounding trees kept shifting with the leaves as they moved in the breeze, making it hard for me to catch all six fruit clusters lit up at the same time.

© Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 17, 2018 at 4:47 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

64 Responses

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  1. These are amazing! I’ve been looking at some of your earlier postings as well.


    September 17, 2018 at 5:04 AM

    • As you took the initiative to discover, I usually show a picture of American beauty berry fruit at this time of year. People enjoy seeing the contrast between the magenta and the green. What you can’t see is that the leaves have a pleasant scent.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2018 at 7:06 AM

      • A nice scent is a bonus Steve, what a lovely plant!


        September 17, 2018 at 2:02 PM

        • After I mentioned the nice scent in my reply to you, I happened across a website whose author describes the odor as “rank.” Just goes to show how different people’s tastes can be. If you’re familiar with lantana (which I see is listed as a common weed in parts of NZ), its leaves have a scent that I find similar to that of the American beautyberry.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 17, 2018 at 2:19 PM

          • That’s so funny! I wonder if different environmental conditions can make a difference to its scent, wouldn’t be surprised! I suspect lantana grows in some of the warmer areas up north. I’m aware of it from photos but I’m not familiar with it. Thanks.


            September 17, 2018 at 2:23 PM

            • I think it’s just people’s different genetic makeups. For example, some people (like me) have DNA that predisposes them to find that cilantro (coriander) leaves taste terrible. It’s a problem for me because many Latin American and Indian dishes come with lots of coriander. Whenever I visit those two kinds of restaurants I always have to ask whether the dish I want to order has coriander in it.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 17, 2018 at 2:53 PM

              • Hahaha! You made me laugh so much. I loathe the smell and taste of coriander! My husband doesn’t like it much either, he says he thinks its in the hemlock family and makes him think of hemlock!


                September 17, 2018 at 2:57 PM

                • It’s a good loathing to share, as far as I’m concerned. Your husband is right that coriander is in the same botanical family as hemlock. On the other hand, so are celery, carrots, and dill, all of which I enjoy. To group by family is to go too far. For example, tomatoes and potatoes are in the same family as the deadly nightshades.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  September 17, 2018 at 3:04 PM

                • Of course you’re right Steve, I also enjoy all those other good things 🙂


                  September 17, 2018 at 3:09 PM

            • By the way, I did find a reference to lantana being only on the North Island. Fortunately it hasn’t moved south—so far.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 17, 2018 at 2:55 PM

  2. They are an amazing color. Our woods are full of them.

    automatic gardener

    September 17, 2018 at 6:27 AM

    • Because American beautyberry grows across the southeastern United States,

      lots of people get to see it. You’re fortunate that the woods near you are amply stocked.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2018 at 7:15 AM

  3. This is a clever composition – the colours of those berries look so fake! No wonder it is called ‘beautyberrry’


    September 17, 2018 at 6:52 AM

    • Thanks for appreciating the composition. Diagonals do add dynamism.

      You seem to be proposing a link between beauty and artificiality. Would you care to say any more about that?

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2018 at 7:20 AM

      • They’re beautiful, but the unfamiliar color of the berries also struck me as looking artificial. I remember from reading about Civil War-era clothing, that magenta (which also went by “fuchsine,” as in resembling fuchsia blossoms) was a big sensation in the late 1850’s – an exciting new synthetic aniline dye.
        It was perfect for the war years, since it was named for a European battle, and a contemporary, but less vivid variant, “mauve” or “mauvine” was used for “half-mourning” dresses. (“Half-mourning” kicked in after a certain length of time, not because you were of two minds over missing the decedent.)

        Robert Parker

        September 17, 2018 at 10:18 AM

        • So that’s two votes for looking artificial. I’ve been seeing these fruits for two decades, so their color seems perfectly natural to me. I can’t remember if I ever had a sense of artificiality when I first saw beautyberries long ago.

          I knew about the Battle of Magenta, perhaps because during my first visit to Paris, in 1985, I stayed in a hotel on or close to the Boulevard de Magenta. Yes, aniline dyes were a revelation, a discovery that let people move away from millennia-old natural sources for colors. As happens with so many discoveries, the artificial dyes soon put an end to previous industries that extracted color from nature. In particular I’m thinking of the cochineal insects from which people extracted purple.

          There’s much social commentary that could be written, or maybe has been, about the stages of overt mourning. Here’s an interesting article about that:


          Steve Schwartzman

          September 17, 2018 at 11:20 AM

          • Well, I’m not sad at all about seeing your yearly photos, just lamenting that it doesn’t grow this far north.

            Robert Parker

            September 17, 2018 at 11:29 AM

            • And after the recent visit to New England, I’m sorry mountain laurel doesn’t grow down here.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 17, 2018 at 12:02 PM

              • Yes, they don’t grow near my hometown, but I’ve seen laurels & rhododendrons in the Poconos many times, visiting relatives, and it’s always a treat.

                Robert Parker

                September 17, 2018 at 1:01 PM

                • Each area has its treats. That’s one good reason to visit other places.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  September 17, 2018 at 1:06 PM

      • I think I shall keep quiet Steve. 🙂


        September 17, 2018 at 12:30 PM

  4. They are beautiful! I presume they are not edible?


    September 17, 2018 at 7:19 AM

    • At


      I found a couple of statements about edibility and palatability.

      There’s also this longer article:


      I’ve never tried nibbling any, much less cooking any. Maybe I’ve been missing out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2018 at 7:31 AM

      • Interesting, thanks. I’d err on the side of caution. There’s a plant we have here called a Pheasant Berry (Leycesteria) that many people say have edible berries, and the birds absolutely adore them, but I wouldn’t chance it!


        September 17, 2018 at 7:35 AM

    • I have a jar of beautyberry jelly in my pantry right now. I’ve already gone through two jars, and it’s quite tasty. I like it better than another wild jelly that’s often made from the berries of the agarita bush.


      September 17, 2018 at 8:23 AM

      • And you’ve lived to tell the tale. That settles the matter of edibility. Where did you get the beautyberry jelly?

        Steve Schwartzman

        September 17, 2018 at 8:40 AM

        • I wonder if preparation solves the inedible quotient. Amanitas are amongst the most deadly of mushrooms, yet there are ways of preparing them that make them edible. Like Val says, I’d rather not out of caution but there are ways. Another example….Fugu.
          On the other had, maybe Linda has practiced the same strategy as Dread Pirate Roberts 🙂

          Steve Gingold

          September 17, 2018 at 10:48 AM

          • I’m afraid that that part of American culture has escaped me. After following your second link I searched and found one site where iocane is described as “absolutely fictional.” I’m glad to hear it.

            As for the beautyberries, I did find references to people who ate the fruit uncooked and found it edible but not very interesting. Apparently turning it into a jelly does a lot for the taste.

            Steve Schwartzman

            September 17, 2018 at 12:16 PM

            • Yes, fictional. It was more about the strategy than the substance. The reference being that the hero ingested small amounts over time, increasing the dosage until immune to its effects, much like a vaccine.
              If you care to see the snippet from the moveie Princess Bride…[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_eZmEiyTo0&w=560&h=315]
              It is a very enjoyable movie and one of my favorites.

              Steve Gingold

              September 17, 2018 at 1:40 PM

              • In my search hits I did read about that strategy of inducing gradual immunity. I seem to remember that that movie is one of your favorites.

                Steve Schwartzman

                September 17, 2018 at 2:13 PM

        • Last year, I tried some made by a Florida native plant society member named Amy Leonard who sells fruit jams and jellies online. It was so good that my jelly-making friend in the hill country wanted to try making some herself, so we did. A few people at the meeting last week said they’ve made it, too, and quite successfully.


          September 17, 2018 at 10:50 PM

          • So not only have you tried some, you even participated in making some. Do you have a link to Amy Leonard’s website?

            Steve Schwartzman

            September 18, 2018 at 5:51 AM

            • Here you are. She’s a good seller, too. A jar was broken in shipment, which she wasn’t able to replace at the time because she was out of stock. I told her not to worry about a refund, and gave her some packing tips. Some time later, a replacement jar showed up in the mail, with a nice note. A good product and a responsible online seller are a nice combination.


              September 18, 2018 at 7:04 AM

  5. I especially like that you have both ripe and ripening berries in the photo. The second bunch in from the left is especially nice, with that mix of pink and purple. Beautyberry was our featured plant of the month at our NPSoT meeting last week; September surely is the height of its season.


    September 17, 2018 at 8:26 AM

    • And a worthy plant of the month it is at this time of year. While native plant people know about it, I expect few people in the general public do. Too bad; they don’t know what they’re missing.

      Speaking of ripe and unripe, at the far left are the least ripe drupes. They seem to be a seventh cluster trying to form.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2018 at 8:47 AM

  6. Never seen berries this color before… spectacular and a great capture.


    September 17, 2018 at 10:02 AM

  7. Such a startling plant. No matter how many times I see it, the berries are always a surprise.


    September 17, 2018 at 10:35 AM

  8. What a beautiful berry. Sadly, the map is correct and we do not have it near us. I am purple with envy.

    I carry a small (12″) foldable reflector for times when a little light needs to be added. Fits right in the back pocket.

    Steve Gingold

    September 17, 2018 at 10:53 AM

    • Clever: “purple with envy.”

      I can see where that reflector is helpful in steady light. In this case the sunlight through the canopy of the trees kept moving rapidly around, so it would’ve been hard to keep a reflector illuminated.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2018 at 11:08 AM

      • I have found that it reflects light onto the subject of its own making although not as strongly as reflected sunlight.

        Steve Gingold

        September 17, 2018 at 11:10 AM

        • Ah, then that could’ve been helpful even in changing light. I’d thought about using flash on the beautyberry clusters, but I avoid that harshness as much as possible. I guess I could’ve dialed it down to 1/8 or 1/16 power.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 17, 2018 at 11:24 AM

  9. We are seeing the Beautyberries everywhere now, too. There is something so special and irresistible about the sight of them . . . begs to be photographed!

    Birder's Journey

    September 17, 2018 at 11:02 AM

    • And you can see I yielded to that entreaty. Lots of things in nature call out to me to be photographed—or maybe I’m projecting my volition onto them. In any case, I’m happy that you’re seeing plenty of beautyberries now. Not till I looked at the distribution map did I realize Florida is such a hotbed for these bushes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2018 at 11:36 AM

  10. A truly delightful photo, Steve.

    Jet Eliot

    September 17, 2018 at 12:35 PM

  11. They are beautiful and you did a wonderful job conveying their beauty !!

    Bernie Kasper

    September 17, 2018 at 5:59 PM

  12. Fabulous image, Steve. I had these in my yard in SC and loved them. You found such great light and a lovely full branch to photograph!

    Jane Lurie

    September 17, 2018 at 6:10 PM

    • I didn’t remember (or maybe never knew) that you lived in South Carolina. Well, you have so many things in California to compensate for the absence of this one.

      Finding the full branch was easier than dealing with the constantly shifting light. I’m glad it worked out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2018 at 6:28 PM

      • Yes, lived there for 15 years before moving to SF full time about 5 years ago.

        Jane Lurie

        September 18, 2018 at 11:28 AM

  13. These are weird. I have never seen a real one before; but I keep seeing them in catalogues. If I was not so set in procuring other edible berries, I might have tried these, just to see what they are like and how they grow. They look like purple caviar.


    September 17, 2018 at 7:56 PM

    • That’s a unique image: purple caviar. The way the fruits grow in clusters is certainly unusual in my limited experience. How many other plants around the world produce fruit clusters like that, I don’t know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2018 at 8:11 PM

  14. That is a cool shot.
    photo solutions. Best Photo Editing Service provider

    Ashely Rosa

    October 30, 2018 at 4:27 AM

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