Barberry Facts

Tips on growing barberry shrubs in your garden.

Credit: John Glover

Interesting facts

A curiosity shared by all members of the barberry family is their “irritable” stamens. When touched with a pointed implement like the tip of a pencil, they recoil towards the centre of the flower. This clever device spreads more pollen onto the bodies of visiting bees and wasps, improving the plant’s chances of reproduction.

The name berberis or barberry sounds as though it refers to the spines, but is in fact derived from an Arabic word that refers to the fruit. A characteristic of the genus is the mustard-yellow pith revealed when the bark is peeled back or a stem is cut.

Cultivating Barberries

Deciduous barberries thrive and yield the best fall colours in full sun, although partial shade is kinder to the gold-leafed varieties, and deepens the colour of the purple ones. Evergreen barberries prefer dappled shade.
All are slow growing, often taking a decade to reach their maximum size. This, combined with a naturally shapely habit, means they are rarely in need of pruning. However, if they are to be sheared into formal hedging, or need old growth removed, fall is the best time to tackle this chore on deciduous varieties; immediately after flowering is best for evergreens.