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Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
A low-growing (2-3’ tall) deciduous shrub with numerous spiny stems. Older stems are gray whereas twigs and young stems turn reddish-brown in winter. If a stem is cut, it will reveal that the inner bark is yellow. Branches root freely when they touch the ground.
Other names for this plant include:
- Common names: barberry, Thunberg's barberry, Japanese berberis
- Scientific names: Berberis thunbergii var. atropurpurea
- Will grow along woodland edges, open woods, roadsides and old fields where it can dominate the understory by shading out native plants and changing foraging habits of wildlife.
- Prefers well drained soils and sunny habitats, but will survive and produce fruit in heavily shaded environments.
Classification in Wisconsin: Not regulated.
Leaves: Clustered in tight bunches above spines, the leaves are simple, alternate, small, and oval-wedge shaped; they leaf out in early spring.
Flowers: Cream-yellow and 1/3” wide; occur singly or in small clusters of 2-4 and bloom in May.
Fruits & seeds: Small, bright red oval berries occur singly or in clusters and remain on stems into winter. Seeds are readily dispersed by birds.
Roots: Creeping, shallow roots but tough.
Similar species: European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) is also a non-native invasive but has spiny, toothed leaves and flowers in a long raceme.
Counties in WI where Japanese barberry has been reported (as of July 2011). Both vouchered and unvouchered reports included.
Do you have Japanese barberry in your county but it isn't shaded on the map? Send us a report.
Mechanical: Can be pulled out or dug; ensure to remove all connecting roots. Mow or cut larger plants before seed set if not able to remove the entire plant. Prescribed burns can be effective in fire-adapted communities.
Chemical: Triclopyr or glyphosate with a penetrating oil can be effective when used as a cut-stump treatment and basal barking.
View Japanese barberry pictures in our photo gallery!
Sources for content:
- Czarapata, Elizabeth; Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest: an illustrated guide to their identification and control. University of Wisconsin Press. 2005. Pg. 88-89
- Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, Invasive.org. Japanese barberry.
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