When the colour palette in my garden undergoes a transition in the autumn, I know it’s time for the amazing Callicarpa show to begin. The leaves take on beautiful autumn tones, and clusters of violet-coloured berries appear. The plant loses its leaves after the first night of frost, but the unusual berries remain until well into winter. The colour seems unreal, as if straight out of a fairytale, and provides a huge wow factor.
In the 19th century, Frenchman Émile-Marie Bodinier travelled to China where he was a passionate botanist alongside his work as a priest. The Callicarpa is one of the plants he discovered in the country.
The flowers, which are bisexual, appear in the axils of the leaves in July. The nectar can be reached by a number of wild bee species natural to the UK, such as sand bees. The more the plant is visited by bees, the more fruit it will bear in the winter.
Callicarpa berries have stones in the middle. They are very bitter, and in fact unsuitable for human consumption.
Birds can eat the berries, but they will only do so if no other berries are available. As a result, the berries usually last all winter long until they shrivel and fall in mid-February.
Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’ is the best-selling variety by far. Profusion is hardy, resistant to diseases and pests, grows in a much more attractive shape than other Callicarpas, and, as its name suggests, it bears more berries.
The name Giraldii refers to Guiseppe Giraldi, who like Bodinier, was also a missionary and botanist in China. He sent a number of plants back to Europe that are the origin of the plants now appreciated by so many gardeners. The ‘Profusion’ variety originated in 1887 in the Netherlands as a result of selective breeding.
Callicarpa bodinieri is self-pollinating, but an even more impressive crop of berries can be expected if several plants are grouped together.
Place Callicarpa in a sunny or slightly shaded spot.
The plant thrives best in permeable soil.
Prune Callicarpa slightly every year after all the berries have fallen from the branches. Some stems can be cut right back, but always leave some stems intact as these will bear new flowers and berries.
Published on: 4 Setembro 2023