FULL SCIENTIFIC NAME
Berberis thunbergii DC
FAMILY NAME COMMON
FAMILY SCIENTIFIC NAME
Branch with fruit
Synonyms: Berberis thunbergii var. atropurpurea Chenault
B. sinensis Koch not Desf.
B. japonica Hort.
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.
HISTORY OF INTRODUCTION IN 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."
HABITATS IN NEW ENGLANDAbandoned 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.
The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group Invasive Plant Management Guide
Comprehensive management information
Plant Conservation Alliance fact sheet
Includes management information
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
Has general taxonomic information about the species.
The PLANTS Database
Distribution/general information, maps, and links
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
General information, key, and references
University of Connecticut Plant database
General information and images
General information and images
Virginia Tech Dendrology Page
General description including photographs
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