Barberries

Darwin's Barberry Thunberg's Barberry Common Oregon-grape Hedge Barberry

What are they?

The barberries are woody, usually thorny, deciduous or evergreen, perennial shrubs that vary from around 30cm to over two metres in height. Most species have yellow or orange flowers that appear in clusters in the leaf axils from spring to early summer. The flowers are followed by red or blue-black berries in autumn. Barberries from Asia are particularly popular as garden ornamentals with a number of species being used as hedging.

Where are they found?

We have just one barberry species that is native in the UK and which can be found in more remote areas of woodland and hedge lines; the species has suffered greatly from targeted removal as it is the secondary host of Wheat Stem Rust and as a consequence is now much rarer than it once was. Other species of barberry are grown commonly as garden ornamentals or for hedging and seeds are dispersed in urban areas by birds that eat the berries. Plants may be found anywhere that seeds might germinate, while plants originating as garden throw-outs may also turn up on rough ground and roadsides. Despite this, most species have only been recorded a handful of times as genuine escapes or self-sown plants in the wider countryside.

Identification

Although the leaves and thorny stems show great variety, barberries are generally fairly easy to identify as a group. When in flower, the flowers are distinctive and unlike those of other plant families. They have several rows (usually four or five) of petals and petal-like sepals, with typically three segments in each row. The Oregan-grapes are very similar to the barberries and are sometimes placed into the same genus (Berberis); they differ in being spineless and having pinnate leaves. Barberries can generally be identified by a combination of flower and berry colour, leaf detail and whether they are deciduous or evergreen. Spine details can be useful in several species, too.



Common Barberry      Berberis vulgaris

Native. Uncommon, in open woodland and occasionally in hedges and perhaps most frequent in Breckland. Flowers late May to early June. A deciduous shrub to three metres in height. Leaves to 6cm in length with bristly margins. Flowers in hanging trusses, followed by narrow red berries. Spines single on thin shoots and in groups of three on thicker stems.

Common Barberry Common Barberry Common Barberry Common Barberry
Habit
Flowers
Flowers
Leaf
Common Barberry
Winter twig


Thunberg's Barberry      Berberis thunbergii

Introduced from Japan. Very common as a garden ornamental and occasionally found where bird-sown or as a garden throw-out. Occasionally planted in hedging schemes. Flowers April to early May. A very variable species as it is grown in a variety of different forms which may have green, purple or yellow leaves and range in height from 30cm to two metres. Leaves deciduous, smooth-edged and spoon-shaped, appearing in small clusters. Flowers pale yellow followed by bright red berries. Winter twigs clearly grooved and with stiff, straight spines.

Thunberg's Barberry Thunberg's Barberry Thunberg's Barberry Thunberg's Barberry
Flower
Flowers
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Leaves
Thunberg's Barberry Thunberg's Barberry Thunberg's Barberry Thunberg's Barberry
Purple-leaved cultivar
Berries
Berries
Winter twig


Chinese Barberry      Berberis julianae

Introduced from China. Rare as a garden throw-out but commonly planted in municipal parks and open spaces. Flowers April. A tall, extremely spiny shrub, growing to three metres if left unclipped. More or less evergreen but leaves will drop in hard winters, turning bright scarlet before falling. Leaves narrowly elliptic and generally deep, dark green with bristly margins; thick and leathery. Stems impressively spiny with spines growing to 3.5cm in length on stronger shoots and arranged in groups of three.

Chinese Barberry Chinese Barberry Chinese Barberry Chinese Barberry
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Leaf
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Stem and thorns


Darwin's Barberry      Berberis darwinii

Introduced from southern South America. Rare as a garden throw-out but very commonly planted in municipal parks, churchyards, roadsides and open spaces. Flowers April to May. A densely leafy shrub, the very deep green leaves giving the whole plant a dark appearance. Evergreen with small leaves spiny towards the tips and 1-2cm in length; thick and leathery. Flowers rich, deep orange and very showy against the dark green leaves.

Darwin's Barberry Darwin's Barberry Darwin's Barberry Darwin's Barberry
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Flowers
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Berries


Hedge Barberry      Berberis x stenophylla

A plant of garden origin, arising as a hybrid in cultivation. Rare as a garden throw-out but very commonly planted in municipal parks, churchyards, roadsides and open spaces. Flowers May to June. A very prickly shrub (and hence useful for hedging) reaching three metres in height when left unpruned, with long, arching branches. Evergreen with small, narrow, spine-tipped leaves 1-2cm in length; thick and leathery. Flowers bright yellow in hanging bunches.

Hedge Barberry Hedge Barberry Hedge Barberry Hedge Barberry
Flowers
Flowers
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Leaves
Hedge Barberry
Berries


Common Oregon-grape      Mahonia aquifolium

Introduced from North America. Widely grown as a garden plant and occasional as a roadside throw-out. Also extensively planted in the Brecks region (and occasionally elsewhere) for pheasant cover and now abundant in the Breckland pinelands. Flowers May to June. A low shrub with more or less upright stems, occasionally reaching two metres in height. Evergreen with leaves bearing three to nine leaflets which are widely spaced and not overlapping, rather dark green and highly glossy. Flowers bright yellow in dense, rounded clusters towards the tips of the branches.

Common Oregon-grape Common Oregon-grape Common Oregon-grape Common Oregon-grape
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Decumbent Oregon-grape      Mahonia x decumbens

Introduced from North America. A hybrid that is rare in cultivation but has been introduced into the Brecks as pheasant cover. Flowers May to June. A low shrub with barely upright stems from creeping stolons, typically less than one metre in height and forming spreading patches. Evergreen with leaves bearing five to seven leaflets which are duller and less glossy than those of Common Oregon-grape. Flowers bright yellow in dense, rounded clusters towards the tips of the branches.

Decumbent Oregon-grape Decumbent Oregon-grape Decumbent Oregon-grape
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Leaves
Leaves