Ornamental shrubs: the berberis

The berberis can be found in nature in hundreds of species, all different from each other, scattered all over the world particularly in areas with a temperate climate. Usually it does not exceed 150 cm in height, while the stem branches very quickly and has numerous thorns. The leaves are oval and many species are deciduous. Their color is often tending towards red, from burgundy to cherry. In spring the berberis produces small, very showy gold flowers, the berries present are edible in red or black.


Berberis is a shrub of the Berberidaceae family and grows in areas that have a mild and temperate climate from North America to Asia and from Europe to the mountainous areas of South America. Until the mid-1800s they were considered and used to create hedges and borders, among the best types of those times. The virtue of this plant is to always offer something, in every season of the year. They are very resistant plants, so much so as to be persistent sometimes, they bloom and produce edible fruits in autumn. The berberis vulgaris species is widespread and grows wild in Italy, especially in the Alps at a maximum height of 1800 meters.


Growing berberis is very simple, as it grows easily on any type of soil and is very resistant to all types of climate: heat is not a problem and cold down to -20 degrees is not a danger. It lends itself very well to pruning and is perfect for creating formal hedges of various sizes, also has excellent defensive skills. Their composition allows them to resist pollution very well, in fact they are perfect for creating urban gardens. The most cultivated and widespread berberis are of European origin, known in Italy as Crespino. To grow at its best it must be placed in a bright and sunny area, with some hours of sun every day; it also survives in dim light, but with time the leaves tend to deteriorate and the plant will have dark and dull colors. It is advisable to use a universal soil, combined with sand or pumice stone to promote drainage and fertilizer to enrich the whole. Planted in autumn, you will have the certainty of having a complete flowering the following spring.

Diseases and cures

The  berberis are known for their resistance to diseases and weeds, they rarely tend to get sick. However, they can be affected by aphids or by attacks of rust. How to avoid this? The soil underneath must not be left too wet!


The fruits produced by the plants have a very sour taste, as they contain a large amount of vitamin C; they are used to create liqueurs as per European tradition. In some species the berries take different colors, coming in different shades of dark blue or pink. In autumn the shrub tends to produce these sour fruits, which are also used to produce excellent jams. The extracts based on berberis are said to be excellent for keeping cholesterol levels at bay. The berries preserved in vinegar are perfect to accompany the fish at the table.

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