James H. Miller, USDA FS

Japanese Barberry

Berberis thunbergii DC.
Barberry family (Berberidaceae)

Origin: Japan

Japanese barberry was introduced to the United States as an ornamental in 1875. Seeds were sent from Russia to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1896, it was planted at the New York Botanic Garden. It was eventually promoted as a substitute for Berberis vulgaris, an exotic plant introduced and used by early settlers from Europe for hedgerows, dyes and jams, and later found to be a host for the black stem rust of wheat.

Distribution and Habitat
Japanese barberry occurs and is reported to be invasive throughout the northeastern U.S. from Maine to North Carolina and west to Wisconsin and Missouri. It grows well in full sun to deep shade and forms dense stands in closed canopy forests, open woodlands, wetlands, fields and other areas.

Ecological Threat
Where it is well established, barberry displaces many native herbaceous and woody plants. In large infestations, its leaf litter causes changes in the chemistry of the soil, making it more basic.

Description and Biology

Jil M. Swearingen, NPS

Prevention and Control
Do not plant Japanese or European barberry. No biological control is available for this plant. Wearing thick gloves to protect from spines, young plants can be pulled up by hand. A Weed Wrench® can be used to uproot older shrubs when soil is moist. Shrubs can also be mowed or cut repeatedly. Treatment with systemic herbicides like glyphosate and triclopyr has been very effective (see Control Options).


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Last updated:11-Nov-2010