A Fall Berry That Feeds Hungry Creatures

American Beautyberry earns its name in late summer when the bright magenta-colored berries ripen. The numerous clusters of berries adorn the stems of this common shrub that, along with its light green leaves, makes this plant stand out in our landscape.

The color is certainly pleasing to our eyes but is also a signal for the multitude of wildlife that take advantage of the bounty. Even a small plant can support hundreds of berries, all the better to feed a parade of birds and mammals that seek out these treats.

I have been entertained on numerous occasions by the neighborhood Northern Mockingbird that stakes out a claim to “its” Beautyberry Bush and defies other birds to try to steel its berries. Mockingbirds are aggressive by nature, but there must be something about those berries that give them extra motivation.

But alas, a number of other birds do get their chance at the banquet that include other resident species and a number of fall migrants. In more shaded conditions, like my woodland, the Mockingbird’s close relatives, Brown Thrashers and Catbirds, take their turns at the feast. Mockingbirds prefer more open areas.

Lucy Jacobson, an observant birder and photographer, recently reported migrant Red-breasted Grosbeaks and tanagers feeding on her bushes. For these long-distance migrants, these berries provide much-needed fuel for their impending flight south for the winter.

But birds are not the only critters that show up for a snack. Gray squirrels and raccoons have had their share of berries from my bushes. But alas, these creatures did not deter me from gathering my own gallon of berries from which I made a bit of tangy jelly to cover my biscuits and toast for the coming year.

As is the case for most native plants, Beautyberry plays an important role in the year-long cycle of life, by feeding birds and small mammals at the right time of the year. These creatures play their part by distributing the seeds to other parts of our landscape.

Get yourself a Beautyberry bush and help birds and wildlife and have a chance to watch the fun.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!

Photo courtesy of Lucy Costilow Jacobson.

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Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

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