|Light requirements:||Full sun to shade|
|Water requirements:||Drought tolerant|
|USDA Hardiness Zone:||5-8|
|Propagation:||Seed or cuttings|
|Pruning season:||Winter or anytime|
|Fruit season:||Autumn into winter|
|Weediness:||Weedy, invasive in some regions|
|Height and spread:||1-2 meters high|
Berberis thunbergii (Japanese barberry or Thunberg's Barberry) is a species of Berberis, native to Japan and eastern Asia. It is widely grown as an ornamental plant, both in Japan and elsewhere in the temperate Northern Hemisphere. Numerous cultivars have been selected, including plants selected for yellow, dark red to violet, or variegated foliage, erect growth, and dwarf size.
It is a densely branched, deciduous, spiny, suckering shrub which grows 1-2 (3) m high, with a "fountain-like" form when unpruned, though cultivars may be fastigiate to nearly prostrate. It has deeply grooved, brown, spiny branches with a single (occasionally tridentine) spine (actually a highly modified leaf) at each shoot node. The leaves are green to blue-green, very small, spatula to oval shaped, 12-24 mm long and 3-15 mm broad; they are produced in clusters of 2-6 on a dwarf shoot in the axil of each spine. The flowers are pale yellow, 5-8 mm diameter, produced in drooping 1-1.5 cm long umbrella-shaped clusters of 2–5; flowering is from mid spring to early summer. The fruit is a glossy bright red to orange-red, ovoid berry 7-10 mm long and 4-7 mm broad, containing a single seed. They mature during late summer and fall and persist through the winter.
It is sometimes confused with Berberis canadensis (American Barberry), Berberis vulgaris (European Barberry), and other deciduous Berberis species; it is most readily distinguished by the flowers being produced in umbels, not racemes.
Well-drained soils in full sun to shade.
In recent years it has become an invasive species in parts of the eastern United States; in Canada its cultivation is prohibited as the species can act as a host for Puccinia graminis (black rust), a rust disease of wheat. Currently there are breeding and selection programs aimed at producing cultivars that are either sterile or produce relatively little seed.
- ‘Argenteo-marginata’: Young foliage with white margins.
- forma Atropurpurea: foliage purple or red.
- ‘Atropurpurea-nana’: Foliage purplish red, semidwarf to 60 cm, dense habit, slow growing.
- ‘Aurea’ Foliage bright yellow when emerging in spring, fading to yellowish green.
- ‘Bagatelle’: Foliage reddish purple, dwarf to 30 cm.
- ‘Crimson Pygmy’: see ‘Atropurpurea-nana’, above.
- ‘Dart’s Red Lady’: Foliage dark purple, fall color red.
- ‘Erecta’: Truehedge Barberry: Upright form, but not tight with age.
- ‘Golden Ring’: Foliage purple with yellow margins. Fall color red.
- ‘Green Ornament’: Foliage purple, upright form, heavy fruit set.
- ‘Helmond Pillar’: Foliage dark red to purple, fastigiate.
- ‘Kobold’: Dwarf to 40 cm, dense, heavy fruit set.
- ‘Little Favorite’: see ‘Atropurpurea-nana’, above.
- ‘Maximowiczii’: Leaves narrow, green beneath.
- ‘Minor’: semidwarf, to 60 cm.
- ‘Pink Queen’: Foliage reddish purple, variegated with pink.
- ‘Pluriflora’: Corymbs dense, with 5-12 flowers.
- ‘Red pillar’: Foliage purple, erect form.
- ‘Rose Glow’: Foliage purple, but emerging leaves variegated with pink.
- ‘Silver Glow’: Foliaged with mottled white variegation. Semidwarf to 60 cm.
- ‘Sparkle’: Dense habit, heavy fruit set.
As specimens, hedges, or barrier plants. The flowers are an excellent nectar source.
Pruning is a rather hazardous undertaking. Fine-pruning is best done in winter, shearing better in spring when clippings can fall into the plant. Branches are somewhat fragile, so care should be taken when raking off clippings.
Readily transplants, but again transplanting is difficult due to the spines.
Self-seeds readily. Cultivars propagated by cuttings.
Pests and Diseases
See Berberis for a list of pests and diseases.
- Mowing: Effective over time
- Grinding: Effective
- Pulling: Seedlings pull easily.
- Grazing: Goats will graze this plant
- Disposal: Hot piles only if flowers or seeds are present.
- Flora of North America: Berberis thunbergii (deals with the species as an introduced plant)
- US National Park Service: Berberis thunbergii (deals with the species as an invasive species)
- Ann Fowler Rhoads and Timothy A. Block (2000). The Plants of Pennsylvania: An Illustrated Manual. Anna Anisko, illustrator. Morris Arboretum, University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 254.
- Christopher Brickell and Judith D. Zuk (1997). The American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. DK Publishing. pp. 172-173.
- Staff of the L. H. Bailey Hortorium (1976). Hortus Third: A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press. pp. 158.