This section is from the book "A Manual Of Weeds", by Ada E. Georgia. Also available from Amazon: A Manual Of Weeds.
Introduced. Perennial. Propagates by seeds.
Time of bloom: May to June.
Seed-time: Fruit ripe in September, but persistent on the stems until winter. Range: Eastern and Middle United States. Habitat: Fence rows, thickets, and waste ground.
The peasant farmers of Europe, long before science had explained "the reason why," were very certain that wheat fields would be smitten with rust if Barberry bushes grew near by, and insisted on their extirpation. Doctor William Darlington, in his most instructive book on "American Weeds and Useful Plants" published in 1847, sarcastically mentions that "It was formerly a popular belief and one that prevails yet to some extent, that the Barberry possesses the power of blasting grain; the fallacy of this idea has been proved." But popular belief was right, nevertheless, for it is now known that the wheat-rust fungus (Puccinia graminis) passes one stage of its life on the leaves of the Barberry.
The plant is a shrub, four to eight feet high; leaves alternate or fascicled, one to two inches long, obovate, obtuse, thick, smooth, bristly-toothed, growing in the axils of small, three-forked spines. Flowers in pendulous racemes, yellow, each with six roundish sepals, six petals, upcurved and with two small glands at the base, six stamens, sensitive, springing up against the stigma when touched. Fruit an oblong, scarlet berry; birds eat the fruit and void the seeds in thickets and along the fences, which accounts for the frequency of the plants in such places. (Fig. 115.)
Plants that menace the grain fields should be grubbed out and destroyed, but in the house grounds or the garden borders there is no shrub more graceful and attractive.