florida Early Detection Network


Common barberry, European barberry


Berberis vulgaris L.


Barberry family


Berberis vulgaris


Leaf close-up

Branch Morphology - B. vulgaris, top; Hybrid, middle; B. thunbergii, bottom

Close-up of spines


Synonyms: None


Botanical Glossary

Berberis vulgaris is an upright and arching shrub that can reach 3 m (10 ft.) in height. The branches are grooved, gray and glabrous, and usually have groupings of three spines (or as few as one) along them. The spines are usually rounded, but can rarely be flattened. The dull green leaves are obovate to obovate-oblong and have finely serrate margins (occasionally the serrations are more prominent). The leaves are alternate or fascicled and are 2-5 cm (0.75-2 in.) in length. The bright yellow flowers of Berberis vulgaris have an unpleasant smell. They are arranged in pendant racemes that can be 3-6 cm (1-2 in.) long with 10 to 20 flowers on each. These flowers usually appear from late May into June. The fruit are ellipsoid in shape, red in color and are around 1 cm (0.4 in.) long. They contain 1-3 small, black seeds. Page References Bailey 411, Fernald 674, Flora of North America 277, Gleason & Cronquist 64, Holmgren 62, Magee & Ahles 517, Newcomb 354. See reference section below for full citations.


Berberis thunbergii DC. (Japanese 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 vulgaris are dispersed by birds. Small mammals can also contribute to their dispersal. It can also spread when branches come in contact with the soil, producing new plants.


Berberis vulgaris is native to continental Europe except for the extreme north, and is rare in the Mediterranean region. In the United States it has been reported from most states in the northern half of the country and south to New Mexico, Missouri and South Carolina. It is present in all of the states of New England.


Berberis vulgaris was introduced in the United States as early as the 17th century when early settlers planted it for producing jam from its fruits, yellow dye, and thorn hedges. It naturalized over a large area of the northeast. Eventually, it was recognized as being an alternate host for wheat rust, Puccinia graminis. As a consequence a huge effort was made to eradicate the plant in the early 20th century, and this effort was rather successful. Berberis vulgaris is now found sporadically across the landscape: it appears to have been eradicated in some areas, while it persists quite abundantly in others, especially near the coast. The Japanese barberry, Berberis thunbergii, was encouraged as an alternative planting, but has turned out to be an extremely problematic invasive in New England.


Abandoned Field, Coastal Grassland, Early Successional Forest, Edge, Floodplain Forest, Forest Wetland, Open Disturbed Area, Pasture, Planted Forest, Roadside, Shrub Wetland, Vacant Lot, Yard or Garden. Berberis vulgaris is found sporadically in New England, usually in open-canopied forests and sometimes along roads. It is also very successful in calcareous soils.


Though Berberis vulgaris is not very common on the landscape in most places, there is a risk that it could once again become a serious pest. The fact that it is an alternate host for wheat rust prevents its sale (seeds and plants) in many states.


Documentation required: Specific photograph or mounted snippet of the inflorescences or the leaves on stem. 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, references, and photographs


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

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

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

Flora Europaea vol.1. T.G. Tutin, V.H. Heywood, N.A. Burges, D.H. Valentine, S.M. Walters and D.A. Webb ed. 1964. Cambridge University Press, Great Britain.

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, Oxford, New York.

Gleason, H. A. 1952. The New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. New York

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.

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

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

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.

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