Berberis thunbergii - Japanese Barberry
Family: Berberidaceae

Hear the scientific name

Berberis thunbergii is a popular but spiny small shrub. Japanese Barberry is very fine-textured and very urban tolerant, with a wide selection of foliage color variants. It is often used as a single specimen, in group or mass plantings, or as a low thorny informal border.

F   E   A   T   U   R   E   S
  form Form

-small ornamental shrub

-maturing at 5' tall x 5' wide for the species form, with the varieties and cultivars of the same size or smaller

-upright rounded growth habit for the species form; upright rounded or spreading mound growth habit for the various cultivars

-slow growth rate


-red, yellow, green, and variegated foliage forms are all available

-alternate leaves are spatulate to obovate, with the base very drawn out, being cuneate to linear but having no petiole

-margins are entire

-autumn color is variable, being orange- to wine-colored in late autumn for green- or red-foliaged forms, and yellowish-green to off-yellow for golden-foliaged forms


-yellow, in late Apr. and early May, in pendulous clusters directly from the stems

-not showy from a distance but attractive when viewed close-up, and attracting many bees


-red ellipsoid small fruits are sparse to rare on the cultivars, but often persist into the following spring

-can be attractive when viewed up-close, but are almost never dense enough to be showy


-zigzag, thin, and lightly grooved; small, scaly buds

-single, thin, small spines occur along the stems

-stems, branches, and roots are brittle and easily broken when bent, pushed against, or during transplanting, revealing a bright yellow interior wood


-not applicable

C   U   L   T   U   R   E


-full sun to partial sun

-adaptable to poor soils, various soil pHs, soil compaction, drought, and pollution

-propagated by rooted stem cuttings

-few disease or pest problems

-moderately to abundantly available as different cultivars, primarily in container form; however, the species form is rarely available



U   S   A   G   E


-cultivars available in several vibrant foliage colors

-urban stress tolerant

-slow-growing and of small mature size

-amenable to shearing


-spines (if they are not desired)

-garbage collector to blowing trash and leaves, along the lower stems

-brittle stems


-specimen shrub, facer shrub, or edging shrub (for the smaller-sized cultivars)

-formal hedge, informal hedge, or barrier shrub (for the larger-sized cultivars, or the species form)


-fine texture in foliage and when bare

-thick density in foliage and when bare

S   E   L   E   C   T   I   0   N   S

Varieties and Cultivars - Search OSU PlantFacts for additional plants in this species


-urban tolerant, deciduous, spiny shrubs serving as hedges or barriers (Acanthopanax sieboldianus, Berberis x mentorensis, Rosa rugosa, etc.)


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