Plants - Trees and Shrubs

Bravo barberries

Carol Gardner
Photography by

After years in exile barberries have made a glorious return

Although the plants are now eligible for import, propagation and distribution in Canada, they can only be propagated asexually from cuttings rather than from seed—seed-grown plants run the risk of reverting to an original form that could contain problems. All plants sold in 2002 were imports from the U.S.—not good news for the consumer, given the difference in dollar value. Depending on size, the average rust-free barberry retails for about $39.95. Nurseries seem to favour three cultivars: ‘Aurea Nana', a dwarf shrub with yellow foliage that changes to red in the fall; ‘Rose Glow', one of the tallest, with unusual rose-and-purple-splotched foliage; and ‘Monomb' Cherry Bomb, a medium-height shrub with large, crimson leaves. Canadian growers have begun propagating the plants, but home-grown versions are not expected to reach the market for about three years.

barberries-2.jpgThe name berberis comes from the Arabic name for the barberry fruit. The cultivar B. thunbergii, native to Japan, is named for Carl Peter Thunberg, a Swedish botanist, zoologist and medical doctor (1743-1828) who had to masquerade as a Dutch doctor to be allowed into Japan to hunt plants. He introduced many Japanese plants to the western world.

Is there a barberry in your future? If you garden in Zone 4 or higher, there's a good chance you'll eventually find the barberry you want.

New cultivars at a glance
The new Berberis thunbergii cultivars are deciduous, highly adaptable, easily transplanted and tolerant of urban conditions. Their sharp, needle-like thorns make them a good barrier plant. They prefer sandy, well-drained soils and dislike wet feet. They tolerate short, dry periods.

Full sun is needed for best foliage colour (especially for ‘Rose Glow') but barberries will thrive in partial shade, too. Their yellow flowers, which are not showy, appear in spring and have a slightly unpleasant scent. Some cultivars (exceptions include ‘Monry' Sunsation, ‘Monlers' Golden Nugget, ‘Aurea Nana' and ‘Bailgreen' Jade Carousel) have bright red fruit. Barberries make handsome specimen plants and fine formal hedges—they withstand pruning well. Zone 4.

Photo: 'Monlers' Golden Nugget

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