Japanese Barberry was introduced to the United States in 1875 from Russia at the Arnold Arboretum, and became known to naturalize in pastures and roadsides as early as 1910. It grows as a woody deciduous shrub in dense thickets, ranging from 1 to 6 ft. tall and about the same in width. Commonly it is found on wetter sites, however it can tolerate drought once established. Small, oval- shaped leaves appear in clusters along the stem, and hide the plants thorns as well as pale yellow flowers that appear in spring. The flowers give rise to red fruit in the fall, and coincides with the plant’s brilliant red or yellow colored autumn foliage.
Ever since the 1920’s, it has been widely touted and planted in landscape settings in the U.S. due to many appealing characteristics: shade and drought tolerance; ease of pruning and maintenance; no serious pest or disease problems; and deer resistance feature the plants adaptability and lure. Add to that, over 68 commercially available varieties and cultivars with options of orange, red, yellow, or chartreuse foliage, and it’s no secret the origin of how this plant became so rampant in our forests and ecosystems.
Barberry has spread (and flourished) outside it’s intended landscape areas primarily from birds, who deposit the seed throughout the landscape. Germination rates up to 90% have been noted, and seeds can remain viable for 10 years. Besides birds, turkey and grouse are known to spread the seed once in forestland settings. Upon germinating and growing, barberry has a vegetative ability called “layering” that makes it able to grow new roots once a stem touches the soil. This capability causes it to monopolize areas with dense populations.
Ticks are known to breed and survive winter under canopies of Japanese Barberry due to the plant’s ability to produce high humidity under their canopies — because of more ticks, areas with barberry populations are linked to increase Lyme’s disease cases and public health.
In 1966, Canada realized the problem with and banned barberries sale throughout the country. Although the U.S. is behind the curve, awareness has grown and to date, Maine, Minnesota, and New York have joined Canada in restricting it’s spread, with Pennsylvania considering a ban.
There are control measures that can be utilized to decrease its abundance, with the simplest being not to plant at all. Cultivars exist that have less than 1% seed viability, greatly reducing its spread. Also, pruning in fall before fruit ripens can reduce populations.
Other control measures include hand-pulling (manual), mowing and cutting of plants (mechanical), and using herbicides such as Glyphosate and Triclopyr (chemical) which are the most eﬀective means of control. Planting native alternatives such as winterberry or inkberry can have similar eﬀectiveness and no risk of escaping.
With growing awareness, funding, and native landscape options, barberry can be controlled, and ecosystems can be restored once again.
As always, if you have timber you may be interested in selling, and want a long-standing professional forestry firm representing your best interests in the process, please don’t hesitate to call any of our FORECON offices. Our foresters would be very happy to speak with you about the markets, and more importantly, your goals and objectives for your land.