Berberis is a genus of plant with about 500 species. They are largely evergreen shrubs that measure 3 to 18 feet tall. Several species have become popular garden shrubs, known for features such as its ornamental leaves.
Berberis is characterized by dimorphic (having separate male and female) shoots. The long shoots form the structure of the plant while the smaller short shoots measure just .04 to .08 inches long. The leaves on its long shoots have three-spined thorns. From the bud of each thorn-leaf a new shoot with photosynthetic leaves will sprout. These leaves are about .39 to 3.9 inches long, with spiny margins. The only time that leaves develop on the long shoots is when the plant is a young seedling. The adult foliage style develops after the plant is 1 to 2 years old.
Berberis can be a colorful plant. Many species are noted due to their lovely red or pinkish color. In some species, the leaves are a brilliant white underneath. Others have been known to have violet or dark red tones. The flowers that bloom upon the plant are usually orange or yellow, at about 1.2 to 2.3 inches long. It produces a tiny berry of .2 to .6 inches long, which ripens into a red or dark blue. Often this is accompanied by a pink or violet waxy surface bottom.
The genus Berberis is found throughout the temperate and subtropical regions of the world. The diversity of the species is the greatest in all of South America, Africa and Asia. The most well-known Berberis, however, is Berberis vulgaris, or European barberry, which is common in Europe, the Middle East, and also Central Asia.
Image Caption: European barberry with flowers (Berberis vulgaris), most common Berberis species. Credit: Sten Porse/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0)