Barberry (berberis), a genus of plants of the natural order berberidacem, whose characteristics are: 6 roundish sepals, with bract-lets outside; 6 obovate petals, with 2 glandular spots inside; 6 stamens; alternate, ovate, serrated, and pointed leaves; a shrubby habit, with yellow wood and inner bark; yellow flowers in drooping racemes; and sour berries and leaves. The stamens have a remarkable irritability, so that when the filament is touched on the inside with the point of a needle, they throw themselves quickly forward upon the stigma; the petals also follow them in this movement. This phenomenon is best observed in mild and dry weather, and can rarely be seen after the stamens have been dashed against each other by a violent wind or rain. The genus comprises about 50 species, which are found in various regions from China to Mexico; several of them are evergreens, and most of them are ornamental as well as useful. B. vulgaris, or common barberry, has thorns upon the branches, obovate-oblong, bristly toothed leaves in rosettes or fascicles, drooping many-flowered racemes, and scarlet oblong berries.
It is a native of the northern parts of Europe and Asia, but has become naturalized and thoroughly wild in the thickets and waste grounds of eastern New England. In the north of Europe it prefers the valleys, but in the south it grows on mountains, and is one of the most hardy of Alpine shrubs. In Italy it attains a height of from 4 to 6 ft., and lives for centuries. B. Canadensis, or American barberry, is a shrub from 1 to 3 ft. high, with leaves less sharply pointed and racemes with fewer flowers than the preceding, and is found on the Alleghanies of Virginia and southward. B. aquifolium, a native of western North America, has shining evergreen pinnated let es, and deep violet or red berries, and is often cultivated for its beauty. There are several other Asiatic and American species which are among the most hardy ornaments of gardens. - Nearly all the parts of this plant serve a useful purpose. The inner bark and the root, with the aid of alum, furnish an excellent yellow dye for coloring linen and leather. Its leaves are cropped by cows and sheep. It is probably by reason of its yellow color that it has been esteemed good for the jaundice, the same having been fancied also of the dock and carrot; but the bitterness and astringency of the bark have made it valued as a medicine.
The berries are so acid that birds refuse to eat them; but when prepared with sugar, they make delicious and healthful preserves, sirups, and comfits. It has been a very general opinion that barberry bushes cause blight to wheat sown in their vicinity; but if this be true, it has not been accounted for.
Barberry (Berberis vulgaris).