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Invasive, Exotic Plants of the Southeast

Japanese Barberry

Japanese Barberry

Common Name: Japanese Barberry

Scientific Name: Berberis thunbergii

Identification: Japanese Barberry is a deciduous spiny shrub that grows 2 to 8 feet high. The tree has small, oval-shaped leaves that may be tinted green, blue, or red.  The bark is brown and deeply grooved with a spine at each node.  Pale yellow flowers hang in umbrella-shaped clusters and appear in April to May.  Bright red berries mature during summer and fall and persist through the winter.

Ecology: Japanese Barberry is a rapid growing shrub that displaces native plants and degrades wildlife habitat.  Birds and small mammals spread the seeds, which have a 90% germination rate.  Japanese Barberry is avoided by deer, giving this invasive shrub a competitive advantage.

Plant Control: Mature shrubs in the home landscape can be removed by digging up the plant and bagging it in a large heavy duty garbage bag so it is not able to root elsewhere or spread its seeds.  Binding it up tightly with twine or wrapping it with landscape fabric may make it easier to dig without getting stuck with the spines. If digging is not an option, cut entire shrub back to the ground in late summer and treat cut ends with undiluted glyphosate concentrate (53.8% preferable but 41% probably okay). Due to the likelihood of seeds being present in the immediate area, annual monitoring may be needed to control new seedlings for several years after removal of source plants. Small seedlings should be pulled as soon as they are found or a shovel will be needed to dig them up if they are allowed to get over two inches in size.

Alternative Native Species: Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Mapleleaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)

When using herbicides remember to follow label-recommendations.  Any mention of trade, products, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by North Carolina State University.

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