Bad, Bad Barberry Plants Escape Gardens

A few weeks ago I touted the merits of barberry cultivars in my syndicated Yardsmart column. And I got mail. The gist of it was problems of barberry invasiveness in the eastern states. It’s no surprise because barberry is listed as an invasive plant by the USDA. Invasive means a plant has the ability to grow wild on its own in a particular area. When they do this in great quantity it displaces a lot of natural vegetation that’s vital to wildlife habitat. Plants like barberry that are already well established in the wild are difficult if not impossible to control. Many people feel that they should be banned from ornamental gardens because birds eat their seeds and disperse them over a wide range. The same applies to other invasive plants such as popular fountain grass, maiden grasses, bamboo, spiraea, wisteria, Halls honeysuckle and privet. The barberry listed as invasive is Berberis thunbergii, the species. However, the cultivars that are planted today produce few berries, and they are sufficiently different to carry varying germination requirements. In common terms this means that they may not be able to grow in wild places where the species can. Their seed might not be so prolific either. This illustrates a great dilemma of horticulture today. The land conservators, native plants, wildlife people and botanists tend to view ornamental gardeners with disdain because so many of our plants come from outside the U.S. and even beyond the shores of North America.

Each plant has the potential to naturalize and become a problem, with some more capable than others. Whether stopping cultivation of these plants or their close relatives due to this problem is a realistic solution remains to be seen. They say that all diseases are now a 24 hour plane ride from our front door evidenced by the West Nile Virus. Many experts believe the idea that we can stop an insect or plant from making a home here is unrealistic. Barberry has been busy reproducing on American soil since 1864 – well over a hundred years. Suggesting we not cultivate them in the ornamental garden seems a lot like closing the barn door after the horse got out.

Barberries Reemerge From Hedgerow Persecution