Ontario Trees & Shrubs website

Barberries Group

To see all  Barberries  in order by Common Name     START HERE
There are three species of Barberry: European Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) (both alien), and American Barberry (Berberis canadensis). They are shrubs with very sharp thorns and yellowish wood. The branches of Japanese Barberry & American Barberry shrubs usually curve up, over, and down towards the ground. However, European Barberry grows more like a small tree.

The leaves of European Barberry are prominently spiny-toothed. The leaves of Japanese Barberry are untoothed (entire).

The flowers/fruits of European Barberry hang down in racemes (longish clusters). The flowers/fruits of Japanese Barberry hang down from the branch singly.

American Barberry (Berberis canadensis) does not occur in Ontario.

Here's a table of the contrasting differences between European Barberry and Japanese Barberry:

Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) European Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)
leaves smooth-edged (entire) prominently spiny-toothed
form branches grow up, curve over and then down grows more like a small tree
fruits/flowers hang down from branches singly hang down from branches in longish clusters
And also... American Barberry (Berberis canadensis) (not on this website)
American Barberry (Berberis canadensis) "Some training is needed in order to identify the American Barberry (Berberis canadensis) with confidence. The species can be distinguished from the two similar and more common introduced species by several characters. Japanese Barberry has solitary or umbellate flowers, simple spines, and its leaf margins are always entire. European Barberry is harder to distinguish; it has gray bark on its second-year branches (rather than brown, purple, or reddish), each margin of its leaf blade has (8-) 16-30 teeth (rather than 2-12 teeth), and its racemes are 10-20 flowered (rather than 3-12 flowered). According to one source (Gleason and Cronquist 1991) other important differences between the two include the notch-tipped petals and indistinctly-veined leaves (beneath) of American Barberry, vs. the round-tipped petals and prominently reticulate-veined leaves (beneath) of European Barberry."
See www.fs.fed.us/r9/wildlife/tes/ca-overview/docs/plant_Berberis_canadensis-AmericanBarberry.pdf

See Also: The Monday Garden, by Sue Sweeney

Barberry species are also featured on the Ontario Wildflowers website.


European Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)
European Barberry
(Berberis vulgaris)
Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
Japanese Barberry
(Berberis thunbergii)
To see all  Barberries  in order by Common Name     START HERE