Native Plant Fall Color
Fall is a time for vibrant oranges, yellows and reds as the leaves turn colors. But fall is also the time of colorful berries. These are eaten by wildlife as they are either migrating down south or preparing to tuck in for the chilly winter.
Two plants that produce beautiful berries in the fall are the Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and the American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).
First, the Spicebush is a medium to large sized native shrub that can get 12 feet in height and is found in the eastern half of North America, from New England through Texas. They do well in full sun and partial shade. They have lovely yellow foliage in the fall, but what really stands out….if you are lucky to have a female shrub, are the bright red berries they produce. In order to get berries, however you also need a male shrub, Spicebush are dioecious meaning separate plants have separate reproductive parts, so if you are interested in getting the berries that are only produced on a female shrub, you need to have a male one near-by. The berries are produced by the pollination of the female flowers by the male flowers. Flowers are small and yellow and bloom in early spring. The berries than slowly develop and ripen in the fall, just in time for hungry birds to munch on them….and disperse the seeds. One other interesting fact is that the spicebush is a host plant for the spicebush butterflies. So you might find the caterpillars munching on their leaves in the summer.
Spicebush butterfly getting some nectar from a coneflower. These butterflies lay their eggs on the Spicebush pictured above.
Make sure you do not confuse the Spicebush for this shrub that also produces bright red berries, this is the invasive bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii). This species of plant takes over native plant communities, as can be seen in any Midwest neighborhood. The predominant green shrub is likely the bush honeysuckle. It can be easily recognized in early spring as it is often the first shrub to leaf out in spring and stays green later in the fall than most native shrubs. It outcompetes and shades out native species, reducing plant diversity
Invasive Bush Honeysuckle
The second native plant I am highlighting is the American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). It is a smaller sized bush growing 5 t o 8 feet high. It is found in the southeastern part of the United States and Northern Mexico. They leaf out in late spring and have small inconspicuous violet or white flowers. The flowers then develop into the bright purple clusters of berries seen later in summer through the fall. Unlike the spicebush, the American beautyberry is monoecious meaning one plant contains flowers with both sex reproductive parts, so to get the pretty berries, you only need one plant. These berries are used by songbirds and other wildlife for food. In the fall the leaves turn a lime green to yellow.
USDA Plants Database
Lindera benzoin (Northern Spicebush, Spicebush, Spice Bush) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (ncsu.edu)
Spicebush - Grow Native!
American Beautyberry - Grow Native!
Bush Honeysuckle (missouribotanicalgarden.org)
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