Common name/s ?

Darwin's barberry

Skill rating



South America.

Type of plant ?

Evergreen, perennial shrub.

Hardiness zone ?

RHS zone


EGF zone


USDA zone


Eventual size

To 2.5m height and spread.

Growth rate ?

Slow; it will reach its full height in 10 to 20 years.

Shape it grows into

A dense, bushy shrub.

Season/s of interest

Flowers in spring and fruit in autumn. Year round foliage.

Where to grow it

Happy in full sun or part shade.
Prefers well drained to moist soil.

Happy in any type or pH of soil so long as it isn’t waterlogged. Suitable for exposed or sheltered locations of any aspect, including coastal conditions. The best fruit will be obtained if planted in a sunny spot.

Berberis darwinii


Small, shiny, evergreen leaves have three points at their tips. Orange flowers are borne in spring followed by blue/black fruits in summer. The stem bears spines, which are formed from modified shoots, and the wood inside the stem is distinctively yellow in colour.

What to use it for

Useful for hedging and to secure boundaries thanks to the sharp spikes.

How to look after it

Requires little maintenance.

How to prune it

Always wear thornproof gloves and clothing (with long sleeves) when pruning barberries, and consider wearing protective glasses if you need to get into the centre of the shrub. Pruning should be done in early summer once it has finished flowering (or in autumn/winter if you want to have a display of autumnal fruits) and should be fairly minimal (stems can be shortened to keep the plant compact if it’s being used as a hedge). If the plant becomes large, straggly and only flowers at the ends of the stems, it can be cut back hard in late winter. Cut all the stems back to 30cm height, but be aware that you will lose the following season’s flower display.

How to propagate it

Berberis plants can be propagated by cuttings, however they don’t always succeed, so you might find other methods more effective. Take semi-ripe cuttings from midsummer to autumn. Alternatively take hardwood cuttings from late autumn to midwinter. Dip the cuttings in a hormone rooting compound to encourage rooting and keep the cuttings in a cold frame or cloche to protect them in cooler climates.

Seeds can also be collected from barberries when ripe and either sown outside immediately, or chilled in sand to break their dormancy before sowing in spring. They should germinate by the summer.

Common problems

Berberis plants are susceptible to powdery mildews, rusts and viral diseases.

New plants can take at least 2 years before they flower, so don’t worry if you have a young plant which isn’t yet blooming. It may simply be that it isn’t mature enough to do so.

Other useful information?

Barberry fruits (particularly those of Berberis vulgaris), which are rich in vitamin C, can be used to make jam or jelly. However, all other parts of the plant (except the ripe berries) are harmful if eaten. Various berberis species are used around the world for their medicinal value. They contain an important anti-bacterial alkaloid called ‘berberine’ which is used in Asia to control tropical diarrhoea and certain eye diseases. It is obtained from the roots and rhizomes of various species. Around 7 tonnes of this is produced in India each year.

Barberries are alternative hosts for wheat rust (Puccinia graminis) which can devastate crops and, therefore, they are banned in much of North America.

This plant has been given the Award of Garden Merit by the RHS. It is named in honour of Charles Darwin, who brought this species of barberry back from South America in 1835 during the voyage of the ‘Beagle’. In New Zealand it is considered an invasive weed as ‘escaped’ garden-grown Berberis darwinii are threatening indigenous plants and ecosystems.