BARBERRY FAMILY - Berberidaceae: Barberry; Pepperidge-bush
Flowers--Yellow, small, odor disagreeable, 6-parted, borne in drooping, many-flowered racemes from the leaf axils along arching twigs. Stem: A much-branched, smooth, gray shrub, 5 to 8 ft. tall, armed with sharp spines. Leaves: From the 3-pronged spines (thorns); oval or obovate, bristly edged. Fruit: Oblong, scarlet, acid berries.
Preferred Habitat--Thickets, roadsides, dry or gravelly soil.
Distribution--Naturalized in New England and Middle states; less common in Canada and the West. Europe and Asia.
When the twigs of barberry bushes arch with the weight of clusters of beautiful bright berries in September, every one must take notice of a shrub so decorative, which receives scant attention from us, however, when its insignificant little flowers are out.
In the barberry bushes, as in the gorse, when grown in dry, gravelly situations, we see many leaves and twigs modified into thorns to diminish the loss of water through evaporation by exposing too much leaf surface to the sun and air. That such spines protect the plants which bear them from the ravages of grazing cattle is, of course, an additional motive for their presence. Under cultivation, in well-watered garden soil--and how many charming varieties of barberries are cultivated--the thorny shrub loses much of its armor, putting forth many more leaves, in rosettes, along more numerous twigs, instead. Even the prickly pear cactus might become mild as a lamb were it to forswear sandy deserts and live in marshes instead. Country people sometimes rob the birds of the acid berries to make preserves. The wood furnishes a yellow dye.