What is a Red Barberry?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

Red barberry bushes are attractive, thorny shrubs often used for garden hedging. The ornamental plants are known for their crimson coloration and easy maintenance. If grown in the shade, the hedge plants can also turn green.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

It is also known as the Japanese Barberry, Desert Holly, or Thunberg's Barberry. The former name is due to the plant's nativity to Japan. The scientific name of the shrub is Berberis thunbergii. In addition to red and green shades of the bush, yellow, violet, and variegated patterns are also available. The red barberry bush is known to provide bright bursts of color, usually changing with the seasons, throughout the year.

Deciduous red barberry bushes feature dusky oval leaves and small yellow clusters of flowers. These flowers typically bloom in the spring to early summer. Glossy red berries grow from the bush. These small fruits are considered edible and house the seeds from which the plants are grown.

Resistant to drought, red barberry can be grown in full sunlight in mild climates. If grown in hotter areas, the shrubs should be provided with partial shade. Soil should be well-drained, though quality typically is not a concern. Rocky soils can often yield very healthy plants.

These shrubs can survive in subzero temperatures, but not for long. It is generally recommended that they be planted in climates with mild winters. Areas with heavy rainfall can also be detrimental to the plant.

Though many gardeners enjoy growing this low maintenance shrub in their gardens, it is considered an invasive species in many areas. The bushes are known to overgrow around other native plants, killing them and discouraging native animal species, such as deer, from living in the area. The resistance to deer, however, also makes the plants a popular choice among homeowners, leading them to plant several of the plants around property lines to form an effective barrier.

Some animals like the thorny red barberry bush. Hummingbirds and other garden guests are often attracted to the plant, largely due to its fruit. Some hummingbirds may even build nests within the shrubs.

Most wildlife and domestic pets, however, are deterred by the shrub's prickly barbs. People with children may wish to plant the shrub with care in order to avoid possible injuries. Other potential problems that the red barberry can cause include fostering the plant disease known as black rust, as well as mutating pH levels in soil.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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