Japanese Barberry
Berberis thunbergiiBerberidaceae
Whole Plant
Whole PlantFlowerFruitLeaf
Photos (c) Cheryl Comeau Beaton unless otherwise noted


  • Berberis thunbergii var. atropurpurea, B. sinensis, B. japonica

The Plant:

  • A dense, woody shrub, fountain or dome shaped. Typically 3-6 feet tall.

The Leaves:

  • alternate
  • entire
  • spatulate
  • grow in tuft like patches
  • green, red, copper or variegated leaves

The Stem:

  • 2-3 feet, max 8 feet
  • arching, spiny
  • single thorns or with 2 small thorns
  • yellow inner bark

The Flowers:

  • Yellow, .25 inches wide, six-petaled flowers. Flowers are single or in dangling umbel, held in leaf axils. Blooms in May.

The Fruits:

  • hard red berry
  • small
  • oblong
  • clusters in leaf axils

The Habitat:

  • sun and shade tolerant
  • sweet, moist soils
  • roadsides, landscapes
  • fields, woods, stream banks


  • birds (turkey and grouse) and small mammals
  • branches can root if they make contact with the soil
  • gardening

Key ID Features:

  • fountain shaped
  • alternate leaves grow in tufts
  • green, red, copper or variegated leaves
  • thorns
  • 6 yellow petals
  • hard red berry
  • roots and inner bark yellow

Similar Species:

  • Common barberry (Berberis vulgaris): Leaves have toothed margins, flowers hang in a long cluster under leaves
  • Berberis ? ottawensis (hybrid of B. thunbergii and B. vulgaris): Intermediate characters from both parents, can be difficult to distinguish.


  • Japanese barberry is typically grown for its showy fruits and its fall leaf color. Reproduction is mainly through seed which are spread by birds. Japanese and Common Barberry naturalize easily and should not be planted in landscapes, due to its ability to out compete native species.

Growth Form: Shrub

Origin: Japan

Level of Invasiveness for Nantucket: Likely Invasive

Level of Invasiveness for Massachusetts: Invasive

Massachusetts Cultivation Restrictions: importation ban July 2006, propagation ban January 2009

Credits: The Electronic Field Guide to the Invasive Plants of Nantucket (c) 2005-2006 Maria Mitchell Association, EFG Project, UMass Boston