One of my favorite native plants to see the field is the Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). Not only does this shrub flower like this in spring summer, but in autumn each of these flowers along it's stem will explode into a shimmering feast of bright red berries. This simple and wide spread plant is a tasty treat for all kinds of wildlife including over forty species of songbirds, deer, raccoons, opossums, armadillos, and rodents. And I just discovered something new and exciting about it!
According to research done at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Products Utilization Research Unit in Oxford, Mississippi in 2006, beautyberry leaves contain compounds which rival DEET as insect repellants. This study and subsequent studies found that oils distilled from beautyberry leaves repelled fire ants, mosquitos and black-legged ticks for up to 3 hours!! Crushing the leaves and rubbing them on yourself or your pets works almost as well as the scientifically distilled oils. Although there is still reserach needed to test toxicity and potential dangers of using the plant this way, no side effects are expected. Beautyberry has been used in traditional medicine and for folk remedies for much longer than we even know with no ill effects.
So what does this mean for me? Since I don't use DEET due to the chemical carcinogens, you might see me in the woods rubbing myself down with beautyberry leaves. And you may think I'm crazy, but at least the bugs won't find me as appetizing!