distinguish between japanese barberry and other species #636836

Asked May 17, 2020, 1:45 PM EDT

Do you have photos to help distinguish between japanese barberry and other species? Are all barberry species tick magnets? Thanks.

Oakland County Michigan

Expert Response


Yes, we have ID guides; see the references at the bottom of this reply.

Most barberries are native to China, and Berberis thunbergii, is native to Japan. Common barberry or European barberry, Berberis vulgaris is native to Europe,North Africa and parts of Asia.There are many hybrids developed from these. American barberry, Berberis canadensis, is a No. American native that ranges from Pennsylvania and southward.

This response to a client’s earlier question

“Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is considered an invasive species in Michigan. For this species the concern is the spread by seed and displacement of other native plants.”

According to Ontario Wildflowers 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."

Tick habitat:

Some research shows higher number of ticks in wild habitats where invasive barberries are thriving because mice, like ticks themselves, find dense barberry thickets a desirable  habitat. This is from University of Connecticut “Deer are often considered to be the prime source in spreading Lyme disease because they act as hosts to adult ticks; however they are not the only culprit in the forest. Since mice love the Barberry’s habitat as much as the hungry little arachnids do, they are an efficient vector for distributing immature ticks, those in their nymph stage, over a wide area.”

So, you want to grow a landscape that does not attract mice or deer. I could find no research that stated native barberry had higher rates of tick populations, but if you allowed the native shrub to form dense thickets like Japanese barberry does, you might provide the same environment. Here is a guide to tick resistant landscapes-

Here are identification details on native and Japanese barberry


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