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Name in other Languages
- Arabic: شجيرة البرباريس
- Armenian: ծորենի սովորական
- Azerbaijani: Adi zirinc
- Belarusian: Барбарыс звычайны
- Bulgarian: обикновен кисел трън
- Catalan Valencian: Coralet
- Croatian: Šimširika, Žutika
- Czech: dřišťál obecný
- Danish: Almindelig Berberis
- Dutch: Gewone Zuurbes, Zuurbes
- Estonian: Harilik kukerpuu, Kukerpuu
- Finnish: Ruostehappomarja
- French: Epine-Vinette, Épine-vinette vulgaire, Épine vinette, Épine-vinette
- Galician: Arleira, Berberiz
- German: Berberitze, Essigbeere, Echte Berberitze, Gewöhnliche Berberitze, Gemeiner Sauerdorn, Sauerdorn
- Greek: Ευρωπαϊκή οξυάκανθα, Βερβερίς η κοινή
- Hungarian: Sóskaborbolya
- Irish: Barbróg
- Italian: Crespino comune
- Japanese: セイヨウメギ
- Kazakh: Кәдімгі бөріқарақат
- Kirghiz: Ысырык
- Latvian: Parastā bārbele
- Lithuanian: Paprastasis raugerškis
- Macedonian: Кисел трн, жолтика
- Manx: Barbrag
- Persian: زرشک خوراکی
- Polish: Berberys zwyczajny, Berberys pospolity
- Portuguese: Raiz-de São-João
- Romanian: Dracilă
- Russian: Барбарис обыкновенный
- Serbian: Шимширика
- Shambala: Žutika
- Slovak: dráč obyčajný
- Slovenian: Navadni češmin
- Spanish: abrilla, agracejo oficinal, acetín, agracejo, agracillos, agracillo, agracio, agraciu, agrazón, agranzón
- Swedish: Surtorn
- Tatar: Гади бүре карлыганы
- Telugu: ఎరుపుమణిచెట్టు
- Turkish: Adi kadıntuzluğu, Kızamık çalısı, Avrupa kadıntuzluğu
- Welsh: pren melyn
- Ukrainian: Кислиця, Барбарис звичайний
- Uzbek: Zirk
- Walloon: Bwès sint Djuråd, Bwès Sint-Djuråd
Adaptable evergreen and deciduous shrubs in a range of sizes; all are spiny, occasionally dangerously so. Usually rather twiggy in habit, with distinctive yellow wood, the stringy branches of barberries are unexpectedly robust. The foliage varies from pale green, through bluish tones, to dark, glossy, or almost leaden green. Deciduous species often feature impressive autumn color. The neat symmetrical flowers, in yellow, gold, or orange tones, are gathered in the leaf joints in tight or more open clusters. Often, attractive fruits follow in a range of shades from coral to red to blue to black, sometimes changing color as they mature.
To be clear, I’m not recommending Japanese barberry (Berberís thunbergii), which can be an invasive menace! But there are over 600 other barberry species, some of which are impressive and well-behaved garden plants. And a few of these are important, and sometimes surprising, options for the dry shade garden.
Berberis are sometimes considered rather charmless utilitarian shrubs, and it may be true that some are more valuable as low-maintenance plants for the wider landscape than as colorful plants for the home garden. But the flowering display of B. darwinii and the almost all-year color changes in B. wilsoniae bring at least some species into the top rank of specimen shrubs. And evergreen barberries have the obvious attraction of foliage in winter, foliage that is usually presentable at least. As is often the case, evergreens predominate in my recommendations.
All barberries are spiny shrubs, some evergreen and some deciduous, and those discussed here are suitable for areas as cold as zone 6. The spines are, in fact, modified leaflets and are often carried in groups of three. In some species they are quite short, in two of those listed here they are much longer. While spines can be a virtue in boundary hedging in some situations, take care where you site those with the longest spines, which can penetrate the clothing of adults and the tender skin of young children. I never cite their spines as a reason not to plant barberries, but be sure to match the species to the situation. All require careful handling when planting or pruning; wear thick gloves that cover your wrists.
The barberries featured here are surprisingly resilient, with tough twiggy branches that make effective ground cover in those species with a spreading growth habit. The yellow or orange flowers are impressively displayed in clusters. The fruits are generously produced, with no special pollination requirements and they seem to be low on the list of priorities for hungry birds in winter. Many barberries may prove deer-resistant in your area, proving just how valuable these shrubs can be.
The evergreen Berberis darwinii, with its small holly-like leaves, regularly produces an attractive crop of plum-blue berries, sometimes alongside a few late flowers.
One of the most colorful and elegant of spring shrubs is Berberis ×stenophylla. Its spiny branches also make it good choice for a boundary hedge, and it is never invasive.