29 October 2009

Japanese Barberry - you suck.

Unfortunately I had to miss the Ontario Invasive Plant Council's AGM yesterday :(

At the very least, I can mark it with this little PSA:

Some invasive plants are no one's fault: I mean, I've never met anyone who cultivates and sells DSV (ok - there are 2 idiots I haven't met who sell it online).

And then there are the exotic invasive ornamental horticultural plants that are grown, and sold and planted en masse in gardens across... the planet. Like Winged Euonymous (I cringe every time some one calls this "Burning Bush" - that's what our Eastern Wahoo is called -- pls don't be confused. I have the same complaint w/ that purple garden centre exotic thing most people call "Sand Cherry").

And this year, more than I've seen before, Japanese Barberry Berberis thunbergii was thrown at us from the ornamental gardening machine like a glittery gravel iceball to the teeth. You may have heard the noise, it sounded like a lot of 'Ooh ah - leaves come in new 'bonanzas' of 'gold' and more 'glowing' shades of 'rose' than, well, last year. A no brainer yellow & purple contrasting colour combo? Then you must buy and plant one of each!'

Piss off.

They even rebranded the common name to "Berberis" -- I imagine "Japanese Barberry" was setting off too many folks' exotic-alert alarm bells. Or maybe the old name just sounded too... not "NEW!"

Buying and gardening w/ a Berberis is like... absent-mindedly tucking in a few land mines into the yard, or setting up the birds (folks 'love' visiting their garden) to randomly drop biological weapons out of their ass on to their own habitat, indefinitely.

Last week alone I saw Berberis naturalized in 2 GTA watersheds' natural area sweet spots. And I mean sweet spots: one of those Berberis, w/ a lot of berries/seeds too (twists my tongue with "prolific" + "profligate". If it were on facebook I'd friend all its ovaries/gf's just to say "prick gave me an STD" or even "asked me to have sex w/ his dog" or anything else that might diminish its chance of reproducing. BTW: I confess: we have a running plant 'profile' joke in our house we call 'faceplant') was invading a seep (a niche I know I can't recreate and sustain) in the middle of one of our best local patches of two Gentian species. Well, one of our best patches, for now. Berberis - you suck.


Steve Willson said...

Berberis is one of those plants that suddenly seems to be everywhere in my woods. I was walking through one section of woods, enjoying the fact that I seemed to have eliminated all bush honeysuckle from that area, when I started seeing Berberis. It never seems to end.

I enjoy reading about your efforts to maintain native ecosystems and appreciate all of the valuable references you provide on your site.

Helen said...

I'd always thought that the main problem with berberis was that it hosted wheat rust -- something that's less of an issue with the Japanese b. Hadn't heard of its invasive tendencies till reading your post. Nor have I seen it seeding itself around (yet), unlike dog-strangling vine or Japanese knotweed or even Norway maples, which are everywhere.

Thanks for the education. I still think berberis is beautiful, yes even the purple and gold. But I'll pass your PSA along.

native plant girl said...


"beautiful". i'm with you. especially that yellow & purple combo.

hey, i'm not blind walk past the freshly landscaped front yard gardens with them (though i'm wondering if Berberis thunbergii will look like a dated reminder of "that year they offered the home renovation tax credit"?) and i even cruise the conventional ornamental nurseries (to know what's happening being sent out to our ecology, and the marketing behind it) and of course i'm not immune to the new porn.

but 'looks good' + japanese barberry -- is like the way that 21-yr-old rough-trade can only looks so good when you know you already know better (and you're ovulating and don't have a condom...)

And as for 'knowing better' -- I know from my own misadventures, there are people who harm ecology because they're still learning / don't know better, and then there are people who just don't care. I read your blog and admire it. BTW i went out of my way to vote for it, and it felt good. proud of you, :) East end rocks! Anyways, i just want to tell you, i know you care. and thanks for taking your time to comment. :)

native plant girl said...


nice to meet you. savouring your blog in small bites... like field naturalist cheesecake. :)

I think this is the only post I've written like this where I wasn't mindful of the Appalachian reach of our regional ecology.

What I mean is, in the eastern US there's a rare native barberry, American Barberry Berberis canadensis we just don't have up here.

For clarification:

Japanese Barberry "can be confused with American Barberry Berberis canadensis, the only native species of barberry in North America, and common or European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) which is an introduced, sometimes invasive plant." - from the Plant Conservation Alliance's Alien Plant Working Group's Japanese Barberry fact sheet.

"The Invasive Plants of the Eastern United States Database (2003) states that, "B. thunbergii resembles Berberis canadensis which grows in dry woods or bluffs. Distinguishing features are the sharply toothed leaves and three pronged spines of B. canadensis." - from the ISSG database's page on American Barberry


So, to be sure, have you ruled out American Barberry?

Crossing my fingers for you! And pls let me know either way?

BTW: especially enjoying your pic of the Shagbark Hickory today: the past two weeks I've been bummed that I don't have a good a fall one of it myself, so it hit the spot. thanks :)

Felicity said...

Thanks to your red flag re Japanese Barberry I was able to persuade a community garden group I belong to not to plant it. While various list of invasives call it things like "possible threat" or "minor threat" I think it was being able to add the local info. re establishment in GTA wild spots and horticultural trade flooding the market that made the difference.

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