Ontario Weeds: Common barberry

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Excerpt from Publication 505, Ontario Weeds, Order this publication

Table of Contents

  1. Name
  2. Other Names
  3. Family
  4. General Description
  5. Stems and Roots
  6. Leaves
  7. Flowers and Fruit
  8. Habitat
  9. Similar Species
  10. Related Links

Name: Common barberry, Berberis vulgaris L.,

Other Names: épine-vinette commune, épine--vinette, vinettier

Family: Barberry Family (Berberidaceae)

General Description: Perennial, reproducing only by seed

Photos and Pictures

Common barberry (A - spiny branches with clusters of red berries; B - flowering branch).

Common barberry (A - spiny branches with clusters of red berries; B - flowering branch).

Common barberry.

Common barberry.

Stems & Roots: Bushy shrub 1-3m (3-10ft) high, stems erect; branches gray to yellowish-gray with short, sharp, slender, 3-branched spines (occasionally single or unbranched) at nearly every node.

Leaves: Leaves in clusters or short lateral spurs along the main branches, but distinctly alternate (1 per node) on young, rapidly elongating branches; leaf blades broadest above the middle, tapering towards the base, prominently net-veined and grayish-green on the undersurface, with numerous, prominent, sharp or spiny-tipped teeth.

Flowers & Fruit: Flowers bright yellow in elongated, drooping racemes from leaf axils from the ends of branches, small, each with 6 yellow sepals, 6 yellow petals, 6 stamens and 1 pistil; berries bright red, elliptical, about 1cm (2/5in.) long and containing 1 to 3 or rarely more seeds. Flowers in May and June; the yellow sepals and petals fall very soon afterwards, but the bright red berries often hang on all winter.

Habitat: Common barberry was introduced as an ornamental shrub, but now occurs wild along fence lines, road-sides, riverbanks, edges of woods and in wasteland throughout southern Ontario.

Similar Species: It is distinguished from other shrubs by its clusters of bristly toothed leaves, its 3-branched spines, its small yellow flowers in long drooping racemes, and its red berries. This plant is a very important pest because its leaves become infested with the fungus which causes stem rust on oats, barley, rye and wheat; the fungus overwinters in these leaves and spreads from them to cause early-season infections of stem rust on nearby grain crops. Eradication of this shrub is essential to help protect grain crops from the stem rust fungus.

Related Links

... on general Weed topics
... on weed identification, order OMAFRA Publication 505: Ontario Weeds
... on weed control, order OMAFRA Publication 75: Guide To Weed Control

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