Common Barberry

Berberis vulgaris

Invader Images

    • Common barberry has oval leaves, with toothed edges, flowers are pale yellow and appear in droopy clusters
      Common barberry has oval leaves, with toothed edges, flowers are pale yellow and appear in droopy clusters
    • Spines on Common barberry are three-pronged
      Spines on Common barberry are three-pronged
    • Common barberry infestation
      Common barberry infestation

Common Look-alikes

    • Invasive Japanese barberry has a single thorn, leaf edges are smooth, and flowers occur individually or in small clusters
      Invasive Japanese barberry has a single thorn, leaf edges are smooth, and flowers occur individually or in small clusters

Identification

Appearance

Berberis vulgaris is a deciduous shrub that can reach 13 ft. (4 m) in height. Arching branches which come into contact with the soil can produce new plants.

Foliage

The leaves are oval, 0.75-2 in. (2-5 cm) long, 0.25-0.75 in. (1-2 cm) wide, serrate and occur in clusters of 2-5. Each cluster of leaves is subtended by a short, three-branched spine.

Flowers

Flowering occurs in May to June, when small, yellow, less than 0.25 in. (6 mm) wide flowers develop in dangling racemes. The flowers have an unpleasant odor.

Fruit

Berries are red ellipsoids which are less than 0.3 in. (10 mm) in length and contain 1-3 small black seeds. The fruit is dispersed by birds and other wildlife.

Biology

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.

Origin

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.

Habitat

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

Mechanical Control

Barberry is easy to identify in spring because it is one of the first shrubs to leaf out. Using thick gloves, small plants can be pulled by hand, while larger plants should be dug up. Be sure to remove the entire root system and to bag and dispose of any plant material, including fallen fruits. Mowing or cutting is not advisable except to make removal easier. This plant is sensitive to fire; prescribed burns and weed torches are good options.

Chemical Control

Systemic herbicides, such as glyphosate and triclopyr, are effective in managing barberry. Herbicide can be applied as a basal bark or cut stump application. Late summer during fruiting may be the best time to apply herbicide, but early spring applications may avoid non-target impacts.

  • Be careful not to damage or kill nearby native plants when conducting management work. And when using herbicides, always follow the instructions on the label.

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