Fall brings out surprises in many gardens. We may not have an abundance of fall color in the Lowcountry, but we do have several plants that, although forgotten or overlooked during the warm blooming season, burst forth in all their beauty in the fall. Such is the case with two native plants I want to share with you, Beauty Berry ( Callicarpa americana) and Shepherds Needle (Bidens alba). Both plants adapt well to our Seabrook soils, have moderate water requirements, prefer sun or only part shade and are relatively disease and pest free. They are both moderately “deer tolerant,” being browsed upon only when more preferred foods are not available.
Beauty Berry, also know as French Mulberry, is a fast growing, 3’6’ tall and wide deciduous shrub having an open growing habit. The size and loose habit make it best suited for the back of a shrub border where it can be naturalized. In the fall, the insignificant summer blooms develop into showy, bright violet, berrylike drupes that encircle the stems. For you scholars, the botanical name Callicarpa comes from the Greek words callos (‘beauty’) and carpos (‘fruit’). The “berries” provide food for a more numerous and diverse group of mammals and birds than any other Lowcountry native plant I know.
Shepherds Needle is a true native annual wildflower found throughout Seabrook Island. It is completely carefree and selfsowing to the point that many would consider it a weed. As such, a location that can be naturalized should be selected for it and thinning helps to keep it in check. The picture below was taken beside the Lake House Trail where it is on display with another native whiteblooming wildflower, Boneset Plant (Eupatorium perfoliatum). Like many fall bloomers with daisylike flowers, this 2’4’ plant is a member of the aster family.
Shepherds Needle is very widespread because of its prolific production of seeds (around 3,000 per plant!) and the fact that the seeds remain viable for three to five years. The pitchforkshaped seeds have prongs that readily attach to wildlife (and humans!) for wide distribution. This characteristic is the foundation for two other common names for the plant, “Beggar Ticks” and “Tickseed.” Several species of birds relish the seeds, but the nectar and pollen are even more popular with a diverse number of insects. I see a greater number of different pollinators on Shepherds Needle than on any other plant in my garden, more than making up for any shortcomings it may have.
-Submitted by Don Smith