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.
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.
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.
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.
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
In midspring to early summer, drooping clusters of pale yellow flowers develop, turning into bright red berries.
How You Can Help
Back chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)