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Encyclopedia > Barberry
Berberis

Berberis darwinii shoot with flowers
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Ranunculales
Family: Berberidaceae
Genus: Berberis
Species

About 450-500; see text


Berberis thunbergii shoot with fruit

Berberis is a genus of about 450-500 species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs from 1-5 m tall with thorny shoots, native to the temperate and subtropical regions of Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and South America. They are closely related to the genus Mahonia, which is included within Berberis by some botanists. Many are known by the vernacular name barberry.

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Berberis gagnepainii three-spined thorn (modified long shoot leaf) with leafy short shoot. Each thorn is 20 mm long.

The genus is characterised by dimorphic shoots, with long shoots which form the structure of the plant, and short shoots only 1-2 mm long. The leaves on long shoots are non-photosynthetic, developed into three-spined thorns 3-30 mm long; the bud in the axil of each thorn-leaf then develops a short shoot with several normal, photosynthetic leaves. These leaves are 1-10 cm long, simple, and either entire, or with spiny margins. Only on young seedlings do leaves develop on the long shoots, with the adult foliage style developing after the young plant is 1-2 years old.






China (e.g. B. candidula, B. verruculosa), the leaves are brilliant white beneath, making them particularly attractive.









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Berberis gagnepainii flower detail (flowers 7 mm diameter).

The flowers are produced singly or in racemes of up to 20 on a single flower-head. They are yellow or orange, 3-6 mm long, with six sepals and six petals in alternating whorls of three, the sepals usually coloured like the petals. The fruit is a small berry 5-15 mm long, ripening red or dark blue, often with a pink or violet waxy surface bloom; they may be either long and narrow (like a bar, hence 'barberry') or in other species, spherical. The berries are edible, and rich in vitamin C, though with a very sharp flavour; the thorny shrubs make harvesting them difficult, so they are not widely consumed. They are an important food for many small birds, which disperse the seeds in their droppings.

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Berberis gagnepainii fruit.

Several are popular garden shrubs, grown for their ornamental leaves, yellow flowers, and red or blue-black berries. They are also valued for crime prevention; being very dense, viciously spiny shrubs, they make very effective barriers impenetrable to burglars. For this reason they are often planted below potentially vulnerable windows, and used as hedges and other barriers.


Berberis vulgaris, the European Barberry, is the alternate host species of the wheat rust Puccinia graminis, a serious fungal disease of wheat. For this reason, cultivation of this species is prohibited in many areas.






  Results from FactBites:
 
Barberry (953 words)
Barberries are often used in the southern landscape because they tolerate extreme soil and climate conditions and require minimum maintenance.
Wintergreen Barberry: Wintergreen barberry (Berberis julianae) is an evergreen shrub with thorny branches.
Japanese barberry is often used to hold and furnish slopes and banks.
Barberry (1207 words)
Barberry was reportedly used by the American Indians in cases of general debility and to improve the appetite.
The yellow wood of common barberry most likely was a sign to physicians long ago that the plant was useful for jaundice, a condition (usually caused by liver disease or gallstones) in which the skin turns yellowish.
Barberry is also thought to have a positive effect on the liver and is prescribed by herbalists for hepatitis.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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