Japanese Barberry

Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) [ USDA, Wikipedia, GoBotany, IPANE] is a small deciduous shrub from 2-4 ft. tall. The thin, grooved branches have paddle-shapped leaves up to 1 in. long, and thin, straight spines. The pale-yellow flowers occur in drooping clusters of 2-5 and develop in mid-spring to early summer. The berries ripen to a bright red color in late summer and are 0.25-0.3 in. long. The wood of the Japanese Barberry stem and roots is a brilliant yellow.

Berberis thunbergii fruit 2

While this plant isn't as aggressive as Garlic Mustard, Asian Bittersweet or Glossy Buckthorn, it is very shade-tolerant and can form dense stands which shade out and displace native species. It has been implicated in increases in tick populations (although there are plenty of ticks in places without Barberry!)

It is found on all Acton conservation lands.

poster about barberry removal


Japanese Barberry removal should include the roots, but they are easy to remove unless the plant is old and very large. It has a small number of shallow roots --- digging in with a shovel on either side of a plant is usually enough to allow it to be pulled out. Small plants (1/4 in or less) can just be pulled.

Common Mis-Identifications

It may be confused with Common Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) [ USDA, Wikipedia ]. Serrated leaves, juicy berries, and three pronged spikes differentiate this species from Japanese Barberry. It was largely eliminated in an extermination effort in the 20th century due to being a carrier of wheat rust. Hybridizes with Japanese Barberry.

It is less likely to be confused with the following, as they don't have thorns:

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