Monday, October 11, 2010


Barberry, Berberis x ottawensis 'Silver Miles'

Barberry 'Silver Miles' with its nearly black leaves and orange-y flowers looks like the perfect Halloween plant. Too bad it blooms in April rather than October!  But you still have the black leaves, and there are plenty of spines, which to me keep it in the running for good Halloween plant.

Call it evil, hostile or just a plant with attitude - it is mean!  You could get scratched just trying to take its picture.  Well, if you are inclined to stumble into things when you're poking around with your camera like some of us are.

I have never wanted to grow barberry but I'm giving it a rethink since hearing that deer do not like it at all. I'm kind of tired of feeding my hydrangeas and azaleas to the herd that frequents my backyard.  Maybe I can learn to love it thorns and all.  (I have had three teenagers.)

Barberries are deciduous and the green ones will color nicely in the fall, especially if they are grown in full sun.  All will tolerate some shade and all sorts of soils, but they do not like wet feet.  They are vigorous growers here so you can make a hedge fairly quickly if you need to.  I like the way an unsheared Barberry 'Silver Miles' looks mixed with other shrubs in this border at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.

Do you have barberry?  Would you recommend it?  This one is certainly beautiful.

UPDATE:  10/20/2010
This morning I talked with Kaiti O'Donnell, the lead horticulturist at Daniel Stowe.  She confirms that barberries can be invasive, though Berberis thunbergii is the main culprit.  B. thunbergii can form impenetrable thickets in some areas, making it impossible for native plants to compete.  

Barberry is not listed on North Carolina's noxious plants list, but to curb its tendencies Kaiti recommends putting landscape fabric around barberries when you plant them so that root sprouts do not crop up around them.  It would also be a good idea to put barberry in an area you can monitor for seedlings and tip rooting.  (Tip rooting is when the branches bend over and touch the ground forming roots and baby barberries - new term to me.  Kaiti says it is especially common for blackberries and raspberries.)

In case you have a need to indulge your inner nerd:  A paper in the  University of Connecticut Journal of Horticultural Science and Biotechnology about barberry identification and parentage,  For the purposes of this conversation, it confirms that some barberries are more invasive or potentially invasive than others, that hybrids tend to have lower seed production and less vigorous "babies."  So, based on that, 'Silver Miles' may be fairly well-behaved in the garden, but it would be a good idea to keep an eye on it.


  1. You tell us about the most interesting plants!
    I love the line about teens. As the mom of three, I completely get you!

  2. When I first put the front garden in I planted a Rose Glow, which I like for its mottled pink and burgundy foliage. It is a good blend for many flower colors. Had I known about Lorapetalum, I would have put that in for its evergreen foliage. Last year I got a Sunjoy Gold Pillar which has bright chartreuse foliage and a unique upright narrow growth habit. However, mine tends to splay out.

  3. Several years ago I bought a tiny little barberry off the clearance table at Lowe's. It survived for a few years but didn't grow much. I think it succumbed to an overdose of coffee grounds - my husband didn't spread them around - just dumped them all on that one plant.

  4. rebecca, teenagers will wear you out, won't they? but they are great, too.

    les, i love lorapetalum! unlike barberry, they are particularly nice to touch. i'm not such a fan of the flowers, though. i have the white chinensis which i like a little better than the shocking pinks.

    ginny, i can't resist the clearance table at lowe's either, but lots of times those plants have suffered all sorts of indignities before they make it to that table. it's just a chance we take for the love of plants, i guess. i'm sorry yours didn't make it.

  5. I loved this post. Yep, having three teenagers definitely makes you love "thorns and all."

    We don't have barberry, but perhaps we should rethink it. We have plenty of places where we wouldn't be in contact with the thorns. I'll have to check whether it will thrive here.

  6. HI Daricia,
    I do like the newer varieties of the barberry but I worry about the invasiveness of them. The species variety are very invasive in Maryland. Worth checking out before planting any.

  7. janet, thanks for the heads up. i had no idea! the ncsu native plants website says japanese barberry Berberis thunbergiiis invasive.

    the one pictured in my post is a hybrid which may not have the same potential - i'm looking into this now - but you are right, it's something else to consider before planting. i will post an update with whatever i find out.