Barberry, Common

Fact SheetBerberis vulgaris



Berberis vulgaris is a deciduous shrub that can reach 13 feet in height. Arching branches which come into contact with the soil can produce new plants.


The leaves are oval, 0.75-2 inches long, 0.25-0.75 inches wide, serrate and occur in clusters of 2-5. Each cluster of leaves is subtended by a short, three-branched spine.


Flowering occurs in May to June, when small, yellow, less than 0.25 inches wide flowers develop in dangling racemes. The flowers have an unpleasant odor.


Berries are red ellipsoids which are less than 0.3 inches in length and contain 1-3 small black seeds. The fruit is dispersed by birds and other wildlife.


Ecological Threat

Barberry forms dense stands in natural habitats including forests, open woodlands, wetlands and meadows. Once established, it displaces native plants and reduces wildlife habitat and forage, increasing pressure on natives by whitetailed deer. It has been found to alter the pH and biological activity of soil. Barberry is also a human health hazard, not only because it has sharp spines, but also because it acts as a nursery for deer ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease.


Originally favored as an ornamental in the 1800s. But fell out of favor, and was actually actively removed because of it's impact to cereal crops. Common barberry acts as an alternate host for cereal stem rust (Puccinia graminis), which can severely reduce cereal crop yields. In the early 1900’s crop failure was common due to cereal stem rusts outbreaks so in 1918 the United States created a barberry eradication program to remove them from the landscape.


Forests, forest edges, meadows, fields

Life Cycle

In midspring to early summer, drooping clusters of pale yellow flowers develop, turning into bright red berries.

Management Options

This species is Quarantined: Class B Noxious Weed

Treatment Concerns: 

  • Common barberry “leafs out” very early compared to most native vegetation, thus making them easy to detect in early spring.  
  • Thorns are sharp and irritation may occur at puncture sites. Use caution and wear gloves when handling this plant. 
  • Because of the high risk of spread by seeds, treatments are most effective before the plants go to seed. 
  • Seeds can persist for up to 9 years in the seedbank, so it is beneficial to prevent the plant from setting seed. 
  • Monitor for re-sprouts, missed plants, and new seed bank growth and do follow up treatments as necessary. 

General Guidance:

  • Most methodologies alone will not suffice and should be part of an integrated pest management plan.  
  • Which methods you choose also depend on the purpose of control: eradication (removal of all plants, plant parts, and seed bank), or containment (reducing seed production, reducing spread, reducing growth, removing individual plants near site of concern).  
  • All action promotes disturbance - mechanical, chemical, and even just doing nothing. Our work is in figuring out how to minimize disturbance and maximize positive benefits. 
  • The intent of mechanical or chemical treatment is to kill target plants. 
  • Management options listed below are representative of research by institutions like The Nature Conservancy, the US Forest Service, The Great Lakes Collaborative, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. 
  • Here are additional guidance documents on best management practices for common barberry: 
  • US Forest Service Fire Effects Information System Report on Barberry  
  • The Great Lakes Collaborative Woody Invasive Species - Barberry 
  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Brush Management for Barberry 
Summary of Mechanical Treatment Options 
  • Mechanical treatment can sometimes cause greater disturbance than if the site was left alone or if another treatment option was utilized. 
  • If pulling or digging, remember that soil disturbance can encourage growth from seed bank.   
  • It is beneficial to remove plants before they begin fruiting later in the growing season.   
  • Portions of roots system not removed can re-sprout. 

text in a table describing mechanical treatments for Common Barberry


Summary of Chemical Treatment Options
  • Be careful not to damage or kill nearby desirable plants when conducting management work.  
  • Always read and follow pesticide label directions. Application of pesticides may require a certification from the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. The Agency website provides information on what applicator certification is needed.  
  • If a treatment for a specific species isn’t listed on a given product, don’t use it. 
  • Product labels may require you to check Endangered Species Protection Bulletins. Learn more about protection bulletins here.  
  • Understand the risk of, and how to avoid, drift.  
  • The timing of some chemical treatments may overlap with when certain plants are flowering, and, in order to protect pollinators, herbicides should not be applied when plants are flowering. To mitigate the risk, consider utilizing an integrated pest management plan, such as cutting the plants to set back flowering time, and then applying pesticides in the lowest effective volume. 
  • Chemical treatments pose a risk to plants, animals, and humans, but can be used in ways that greatly reduce this risk, and provide a solution to otherwise hopeless scenarios. 
  • For questions regarding the appropriate chemical to use for a particular situation, or general information on pesticide safety, ingredients, and more, contact the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets’ Pesticide Program.  
  • For questions about certification and continuing education credit opportunities, contact the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets’ Pesticide Program.  
  • For questions about additional training opportunities, contact the UVM Extension Pesticide Safety Education Program.  
  • Special permits are required to apply herbicides in a wetland. Contact Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Wetlands Section for more information.  
  • Herbicides cannot be applied within 200 feet of a Public Water Source Protection Area unless the Water Supply Division is notified. Call 1-800-823-6500 for more information. Similar requirements may be in place for proximity to private water sources.  
  • Forests that are certified organic or adjacent to organically certified agricultural lands may carry restrictions regarding chemical application. Check with the Northeast Organic Farming Agency of Vermont for more information.  
  • The National Pesticide Information Center provides objective, science-based information about pesticides. Check out their website for more information or call 1-800-858-7378. 

text in a table describing chemical treatments for Common Barberry


  • There are currently no known biocontrol agents for common barberry. 

How You Can Help


Photo Credit

5270042,5270045, 1237091, 5448950, 5448899, 5448926, 5448876, 5448985, Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,

5506149, Nisa Karimi, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources,

Information Credit

New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food, Common barberry

Pennsylvania DCNR, Common barberry

GoBotany, Common Barberry

US Forest Service Fire Effects Information System Report on Barberry  

The Great Lakes Collaborative Woody Invasive Species - Barberry 

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Brush Management for Barberry