Berberis thunbergii (Japanese Barberry)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Berberidaceae (Barberry)
Life cycle:perennial woody
  • Invasive - ERADICATE!
  • Noxious Weed
  • Prohibited or Restricted species
Habitat:part shade, shade, sun; wet to dry; woods, floodplains, wooded slopes, river banks, shores, swamps
Bloom season:April - May
Plant height:1 to 4 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 6-petals Flower shape: 7+petals Cluster type: flat

[photo of flowers] One to 5 dangling, stalked flowers at the tips of short lateral branchlets all along 1-year-old branches. Flowers are pale yellow, ¼ to 1/3 inch across when fully open and have 6 petals. At the base of each petal is a single stamen; in the center is a green, flat-topped ovary.

[photo of flower] Surrounding the base of the flower are 6 petal-like sepals as long as the petals and 3 greenish-yellow bracts that are shorter, all dropping off with the petals soon after pollination. Flower stalks, sepals and bracts are all hairless.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: whorl Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are clustered at branchlet tips, alternate but appearing whorled, up to about 1 inch long and 3/8 inch wide, toothless, hairless, mostly spatula-shaped, blunt to rounded at the tip, tapering at the base to a short stalk. The lower surface may have a waxy coating (glaucous). Color is typically bright green turning orange, red or dark purple in fall.

[photo of spine and ridged branch] New twigs are hairless, yellowish or purplish becoming ridged and purplish-brown the second year. At the base of each branchlet is usually a single spine; occasionally spines are 3-pronged. Older bark is gray and rough. Stems are erect to ascending, multiple from the base, many-branched with the branches long, slender, often arching, and spreading in all directions like tentacles. Branches that touch the ground can reroot; new shoots also emerge from root suckers as well as root fragments.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a bright red, oval-elliptic berry, about 3/8 inch (1 cm) long, containing a few seeds and persisting through winter.


Japanese Barberry was introduced to North America in 1875 and had naturalized in the wild by the early 1900s. It has long been marketed as an ornamental in the garden trade with numerous cultivars available, sporting a wide range of leaf colors and in forms from compact mounds to 5-foot hedges. It easily escapes cultivation, commonly spread by birds that eat the fruit and then taking off on its own by seed and vegetatively, and is considered invasive pretty much everywhere it is found in North America. Pouring salt into that wound, research has shown that areas infested with Japanese Barberry also have a higher risk of Lyme disease-carrying ticks. It is also an alternative host for black stem rust, which can devastated wheat crops. Bad plant all around. Canada saw fit to ban it in 1966 but the US saw fit to make money from its sale instead.

In Minnesota, it was added to the Restricted Noxious Weed list in 2017, which means it's been recognized as a pest plant but is too widely established for effective control, let alone eradication, so all the powers-that-be can do now is prohibit its further sale, propagation, or transport within the state. Note that about 25 named cultivars and hybrids as well as the wild type are listed (but are there others not listed?). In any case, like many invasive species this is too little too late—that horse is already out of the barn. Perhaps a biological control agent will be discovered some day but none exists now. The herbarium records don't show the real spread of this species in Minnesota; reports at EDDMapS, a national weed-mapping system, show it is much more widespread throughout the state.

Japanese Barberry is easily recognized by its numerous, often arching, tentacle-like branches with clusters of spatula-shaped leaves on short, lateral branchlets. The leaves are only about 1 inch long and toothless, and there is usually a single spine at the base of a branchlet. Stalked flowers and fruits are dangling in groups of 1 to 5 from branchlet tips. The only other Barberry (native or not) recorded in Minnesota is Common Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), which is less widely spread, has toothed leaves and spines are usually 3-pronged.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Goodhue County. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Goodhue, Pine and Ramsey counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Jeffrey Flory - Duluth
on: 2019-11-14 07:19:14

I recently found out that the nursery industry are selling Korean barberry/hybrids/cultivars. It has fruits on a raceme just like common barberry. I have only found it planted and not escaping into natural habitats thus far. It is likely that if it is spreading, it could easily be mistaken as common barberry, which reduces our chances of documenting its naturalization IF this is occurring (especially if treated).

Posted by: Pat W -
on: 2020-02-01 15:28:38

Was growing as a hedge in my yard, but no longer. It is present in the Brainerd area and I eradicated some adventurous plants from the local Arboretum a few years ago. If seen in the wild, remove it!

Posted by: Nowell - Winona
on: 2023-01-09 18:15:06

When (month) do these plants have enough leaves to spray to be killed effectively? Or how many leaves would this plant have to have to be effectively sprayed and killed?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-01-09 20:05:20

Nowell, Minnesota Wildflowers is not expert at invasive species control. Refer to the MN Dept of Agriculture info on Japanese barberry.

Posted by: Matthew holen - Minneapolis
on: 2023-10-21 09:48:10

Recently saw some berries on a 'Sunjoy Tangelo' cultivar in a store and emailed MDA if it should be added to the restricted list. They said based on seed production research "if a cultivar produced more than 600+ seeds per plant then that cultivar was placed on the restricted list" so it was not added to the list. However, Proven Winners now notes in tehri descriptions of all of their barberry cultivars as not being able to ship to MN, which is fantastic.

Posted by: Jim - wolverton
on: 2024-02-13 02:16:17

Transplant from NY (not far from Lyme, CT) now with several acres in Wilkin County. Clearing out extensive buckthorn. Was looking for understory plants and was aghast to see one site with barberry listed. Had 3 bouts with Lyme, one taking about 10 years to return to running. Read 1 article that in researching control in CT, gas powered torches were used by directing flame at roots until roots glowed bright red. I will only plant native plants. By the way, article I read stated while reasons were not known, ticks congregated at barberry plants with a higher percentage being infected. So unless proven so called noninvasive cultivars don't attract ticks, you may be playing Lymes disease roulette with your health

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