Darwin’s Barberry, Berberis darwinii

Darwin’s Barberry (Berberis darwinii) is a species of Barberry native to southern South America in southern Chile and adjacent southwestern Argentina. It is categorized in the family Berberidaceae.

It is a dense branched, thorny evergreen shrub reaching heights of 3 to 4 yards tall. The branches begin at ground level and are crowded with small oval shaped leaves. The leaves are less usually just under an inch long and a quarter of an inch broad, with a spiny margin. They are arranged in clusters of 2-5 together, subtended by a very thin three-branched spine. The tiny, orange flowers are produced in dense racemes. The fruit is a small purplish-black berry about a quarter of an inch in diameter, which ripens fully in summer. It is a very acidic edible fruit.

Charles Darwin first discovered the plant in South America in 1835 during the voyage of the “Beagle.” However, there has been evidence found that these berries were consumed by prehistoric native peoples in the Patagonian region over millennia. The species was one of many named after Darwin.

In the British Isles, the plant is a common garden and hedging shrub. The species has been honored with the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society.

In New Zealand, it is regarded as a nuisance to indigenous plant communities. It has escaped the confines of gardens by bird-dispersed seeds, and is considered a threat to New Zealand’s natural ecosystem.

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