One of the pleasures of my morning walks around the neighborhood has been to pass by the property on the corner of Alvar and Chartres Streets. It's a fenced property, and wildly overgrown with many interesting plants.
Facing on Alvar Street is a corrugated metal shed that seems to be a metal-working shop. Through the fence I can spy various interesting objects made of metal, like sculptures, and so I was lucky on my very first morning here that when I walked past the gate, there was a man in the yard.
His name is David. I asked if he was a sculptor, and he said, not really. He's a landscape designer.
This explains the interesting plants. There are flowering gingers, and blooming daylilies. There are all kinds of twining vines through the fence. On the Alvar Street side there are tall cypress trees and stiff spiky palmettos.
And then there is beautyberry.
It's all in the name, Callicarpa americana. In Greek, callos means “beauty” and carpos “fruit.” Beautyberry is a fast growing shrub, native to the southeastern United States. The fruit forms in clusters on the main branches, between the leaves, and in late summer or early autumn, it ripens and turns a brilliant violet-purple.
It reminds me of the spray-paint color called "Federal Safety Purple," one of the OSHA designated colors used by industries to code safety equipment locations, physical hazards and protective equipment. Federal Safety Purple is used to designate radiation hazards, and you have to admit beautyberry throbs with a weird unnatural glow seldom seen in fruiting plants.
Beautyberry provides food for song birds. The berries aren't really edible for humans, but like the leaves, they are a natural insect repellent, and farmers used to rub crushed leaves and fruit on horses and mules to protect them.
My neighbor's beautyberry is at the height of its splendor right now. When I walk past its long graceful branches strung with bright clusters, I wonder what other beauties my morning walks will bring, in the coming months and year.