Beauty in the Name
The common name of the Callicarpa bodinieri needs no explanation. The Beautyberry bears clusters of beautiful, purple berries in autumn. The purple colour stands out as unique among all the other autumn berry shades of red and orange. Callicarpa also means with beautiful fruit in botanical Latin. The epithet or second part of the shrub’s Latin name refers to the French missionary and botanist, Émile-Marie Bodinier.
Various online resources still attribute the Callicarpa genus to Verbenaceae or Verbena/Vervain family. Callicarpa has been reclassified based on recent phylogenetic work to Lamiaceae. Christenhusz, Fay and Chase suggest that there is still work to be done on Lamiaceae reclassifications in Kew’s Plants of the World (2017).
Plants of the World also suggests that the alternative Latin family name of Labiatae is best avoided, as it does not follow the genus name convention. Both family names refer to the lipped flowers, deriving from the Latin for mouth or lip. You may ask what flowers in Callicarpa‘s case? They are rarely noticed earlier in the year. The leaves tend to obscure the flowers, although they are reputedly not bad-looking. Look closely for them between June and October.
Genus and Origins
Lamiaceae has some 241 genera with over 6,800 species, of these Callicarpa has around 140 species. Most of these Callicarpa species grow in tropical and subtropical areas. A few come from temperate regions. Only one hardy species seems to be actively marketed to British gardeners: Callicarpa bodinieri. It originates from central and western China.
The Beautyberry’s leaves are deciduous and offer gardeners some colour variation with the seasons. The shrub prefers a well-drained soil that verges towards the acidic. This might explain why some of the leaves in my photographs seem somewhat yellow. The local limestone soil probably does not offer ideal conditions and has turned the leaves yellow in some cases.
Group Planting for Best Results
The RHS advise gardeners to plant several shrubs together in order to ensure pollination and a profusion of colourful berries in the autumn.
Émile-Marie Bodinier (1842-1901)
Callicarpa bodinieri is named in honour of the French missionary and botanist Émile-Marie Bodinier. There is little readily accessible information online on him in English. He was born on 21 February 1842 in Vaiges, in France’s Loire region. He entered a Jesuit seminary on 20 May 1862 and was ordained as a priest on 17 December 1864. Just a few months later, on 15 February 1865, he left France for Guizhou, China.
Guizhou is a landlocked, mountainous province in south-west China. It remains largely off the tourist trail even today. Many of China’s ethnic groups are based in and around this region. Guizhou was one of China’s poorest provinces in Bodinier’s time. After his arrival, the young priest spent his time in the newly-created parish of Saint-Étienne in one of suburbs of the provincial capital, Guiyang.
Christians were subject to persecution in the region shortly after his arrival. It is documented that he personally received some brutal treatment at this time, although my French biographical source does not give explicit details. He went on to build a church, found an orphanage and schools in Tsen-y from 1872 or 1873.
The Sino-French War or Tonkin War disrupted his Christian missionary life. He had to leave for Shanghai and Beijing (Peking). He returned to his dwelling in Guizhou in early 1886. It came under attack by the local Chinese people on 18 July 1886. The Christians tried to defend themselves, but the missionary was falsely accused of violence. He earned a promotion within the Catholic Church and returned to Beijing that same year. However, he was accused of wrongdoing and even treated as a murderer. He was prevented from returning to Guizhou for 10 years.
In 1896, the Guizhou case ended in his favour, following the skilled diplomatic intervention of Auguste Gérard in China over the anti-Christian riots. He returned to his missionary as head of the Lan-tang parish in Guiyang. He died there on 2 February 1901 and was buried in a neighbouring town.
A number of Bodinier’s letters were published and analysed in a French book on the history of the Guizhou Mission. They reveal the missionary as a diligent informer on life inside the Chinese province, but somewhat lacking in diplomatic skills.
Bodinier is regarded as an outstanding botanist as well as esteemed for his missionary work on behalf of the Catholic Church in China. He sent flowers and plants to the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, to various natural history societies and well-known naturalists during his lifetime.
Émile-Marie Bodinier left behind a considerable herbarium of plants collected in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guizhou. It appears that only 200 of his 3,000 samples are named species. Callicarpa bodinieri, the Beautyberry that bears his name, is considered his most significant plant discovery and one that is treasured in horticulture to this day.
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