florida Early Detection Network


Japanese barberry


Berberis thunbergii DC


Barberry family


Berberis thunbergii

Understory incursion



Purple morph




Branch with fruit


Synonyms: Berberis thunbergii var. atropurpurea Chenault, B. sinensis Koch not Desf., B. japonica Hort.


Botanical Glossary

Berberis thunbergii is a dense deciduous shrub 0.5-2.4 m (2-8 ft.) tall. It flowers from mid April to May in the Northeast and its fruits mature from July to October. The branches are glabrous, deeply grooved, brown and have usually simple spines. The leaves are glaucescent underneath, spatulate or narrowly obovate in shape, and are 1.3-3.8 cm (0.5-1.5 in.) long. They range in color from slightly bluish-green to green to dark reddish purple. The pale yellow flowers of Berberis thunbergii are profuse and located along the entire length of the stem. The inflorescences are umbellate with the 8 mm (0.3 in.) long flowers in clusters of 2-4. Bright red berries 7-9 mm (0.28-0.35in.) in length are elliptic or nearly globose in form. The fruits are slightly juicy but solid, and persist on the stems until the following spring. Page References Bailey 410, Fernald 674, Flora of North America 279, Gleason & Cronquist 64, Holmgren 62, Magee & Ahles 517, Newcomb 354. See reference section below for full citations.


Berberis vulgaris L. (Common barberry), Berberis x ottawensis Schneid. (hybrid of B. thunbergii and B. vulgaris) *Below are cartoons comparing the inflorescences of the three species. **In New England, observed to be almost always entire.


The fruit of Berberis thunbergii are dispersed by birds, which are most often ground birds such as turkey and grouse. Small mammals can also contribute to their dispersal. This plant can also spread when its branches come in contact with the soil and root.


Berberis thunbergii is native to Japan. In the United States it has spread throughout the northeast with the exception of the Adirondaks, northern Maine and northern Vermont. It is also located north to Michigan and south to North Carolina and Missouri. Berberis thunbergii is present in all the states of New England.


Berberis thunbergii was first introduced to the United States (and New England) as an ornamental in 1875, via seeds sent from Russia to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. In 1896 it was planted at the New York Botanic Garden. Berberis thunbergii was later promoted as a substitute for Berberis vulgaris, which was planted by early settlers from Europe for hedgerows, dye and jam. Berberis thunbergii was not a host for the black stem grain rust, whereas Berberis vulgaris was. In the northeast, it appears that Berberis thunbergii did not become naturalized until about 1910 when it became more popularly planted at people's vacation homes. In Nantucket and Isle au Haut it was recognized as a garden escape before 1910. At Isle au Haut, it was reported to have "escaped from the village." There were also early sightings in New Hampshire near Mount Monadnock in 1913 by Manning, who mentioned that he was "constantly seeing seedlings some distance from the original plants."


Abandoned Field, Early Successional Forest, Edge, Floodplain Forest, Forest Wetland, Late Successional Forest, Pasture, Planted Forest, Railroad Right-of-Way, Roadside, Shrub Wetland, Utility Right-of-Way, Vacant Lot, Yard or Garden. Berberis thunbergii can be found in a variety of different habitats throughout New England. Initially this plant was described as inhabiting open fields and pastures. However, Berberis thunbergii is also associated with closed-canopy forests, woodlands and wetlands. In these habitats, it has the ability to form dense, continuous stands.


Berberis thunbergii is shade tolerant, and forms dense stands in a variety habitats ranging from closed canopy forests, to woodlands, wetlands, pastures, meadows and wasteland. It is readily dispersed by birds, which can bring the seeds many meters away from the parent plants. Though the exact effect on native flora is not determined, it could prove a great threat to native species. This threat is such that the plant is illegal for sale in Canada, and included on some banned lists in New England.


Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group Invasive Plant Management Guide Comprehensive management information

Plant Conservation Alliance fact sheet Includes management information

Global Invasive Species Database


Documentation required: Photograph of the habit of the plant or the braches and inflorescences. Best time for documentation: Spring, summer, fall.


Integrated Taxonomic Information System Taxonomic information

The PLANTS Database General information and a map

Brooklyn Botanic Garden General information, key, and references

University of Connecticut Plant database General information and images

www.invasive.org General information and images

Virginia Tech Dendrology Brief description and images


Bailey, L. H. 1949. Manual of Cultivated Plants. Macmillan, New York.

Barberry (Berberis thunbergii, DC). Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society. 124(2): 210-215.

Brazdovicova, B., D. Kostalova, J. Tomko and H.Y. Jin. 1980. Isolation and identification of alkaloids from fruits of Berberis thunbergii. Chemicke-Zvesti 34(2):258-262.

Dirr, M.A. 1983. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. Stipes Publishing Company, Champaign, Illinois.

Ehrenfeld, J.G. 1997. Invasion of deciduous forest preserves in the New York metropolitan region by Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii DC.). Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 124(2):210-215.

Ehrenfeld, J.G., P. Kourtev and W. Huang. 2001. Changes in soil functions following invasions of exotic understory plants in deciduous forests. Ecological Applications 11(5):1287-1300.

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's Manual of Botany 8th edition. American Book Company, New York.

Fire Conference 2000. Proceedings of the Invasive Species Workshop: The Role of Fire in the Control and Spread of Invasive Species. The First National Congress on Fire Ecology, Prevention, and Management. Tall Timbers Research Station, Miscellaneous Publication No. 11.

Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. Volume #3. Oxford University Press

Flora of North America Association ed. 2000. Flora of North America vol. 22. Oxford University Press.

Gleason, H.A. and A.C. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. 2nd ed. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Holmgren, N.H. 1998. Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Hubbard, J., T. Whitwell, and J. Kelly. 1992. Influence of herbicides of shipping quality of landscape plants. Journal of Environmental Horticulture 10(1):17-18.

Karhiniemi, A. 1977. Trials with some residual herbicides in nursery plants. Annales Agriculturae Fenniae 16(1):37-48.

Knox, G.W. and D.F. Hamilton. 1981. Rooting of Berberis thunbergii and Ligustrum cuttings from stock plants grown at selected light intensities. Hortscience 16:449.

Kourtev, P.S., J.G. Ehrenfeld and W.Z. Huang. 1998. Effects of exotic plant species on soil properties in hardwood forests of New Jersey. Water, Air and Soil Pollution 105 (1-2):493-501.

Lebuhn, G. and G.J. Anderson. 1994. Anther tripping and pollen dispensing in Berberis thunbergii. American Midland Naturalist 131(2):257-265.

Magee, D.W and H.E. Ahles. 1999. Flora of the Northeast. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst.

Manning, W.H. 1913. Berberis thunbergii naturalized in New Hampshire. Rhodora 15:225-226.

Murphree, B. H., J.L. Sibley, D.J. Eakes and J.M. Ruter. 1998. Critical heat thresholds for root tissue of two golden barberry cultivars. Hortscience 33(3):512. Oxford, New York.

Newcomb, N. 1977. Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. Little Brown, Boston.

Roberts, S.J. and T.F. Preece. 1984. A note on pseudomonas-syringae pathovar Berberidis infections of Berberis etiology of a leaf spot and leaf fall disease in England, U.K. Journal of Applied Bacteriology 56(3):507-514.

Schnieder, C. 1923. Notes on hybrid Berberis and some other garden forms. Journal of the Arnold Arboretum. 4:193-231.

Silander, J. A. and D. M. Klepis. 1999. The invasion ecology of Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) in the New England landscape. Biological Invasions 1:189-201.

Terabayashi, S. 1978. Studies in the morphology and systematics of Berberidaceae, Part 2: Floral anatomy of Mahonia japonica and Berberis thunbergii. Acta Phytotaxonomica et Geobotanica 29(1-5):106-118.

University of Connecticut. Berberis thunbergii. University of Connecticut Plant Database.

USDA, NRCS. 2001. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.1. (http://plants.usda.gov). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

Webb, S.L., M. Dwyer, C.K. Kaunzinger and P. Wyckoff. 1998. Effects of exotic plant species on soil properties in hardwood forests of New Jersey. Biogeochemical investigations at watershed, landscape and regional scales pp. 493-501.

Webb, S.L., M. Dwyer, C.K. Kaunzinger and P.H. Wyckoff. 2000. The myth of the resilient forest: Case study of the invasive Norway maple (Acer platanoides). Rhodora 102(911):332-354.

Wilson, C. and T. Whitewell. 1993. Tolerance of nineteen species of container grown landscape plants to postemergence applications of basagran. Journal of Environmental Horticulture 11(2):86-89.

Wohl, N. 1995. Density and distribution of Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), an exotic shrub species naturalized in the Morristown National Historical Park, Morris County, New Jersey. Bulletin of the New Jersey Academy of Science 39(1):1-5.