A modern reference to temperate woody plants, including updated content from this site and much new material, can be found at Trees and Shrubs Online.

Berberis buxifolia Lam.

Modern name

Berberis microphylla G.Forst.


B. dulcis Sweet

A bush usually 6 to 10 ft high, of erect, stiff habit, partially evergreen in ordinary seasons, but losing most or all of its leaves during winters of unusual severity. Leaves leathery, even hard in texture, produced in tufts in the axils of stiff triple spines, or (near the end of the shoots) simple spines. Each leaf is 12 to 1 in. long, obovate or oblong, tapered at the base to a short stalk, spine-tipped but otherwise quite entire, glabrous. Flowers solitary on stalks 34 to 1 in. long, amber yellow; one or two flowers spring from each tuft of leaves. Fruit globular or orange-shaped, dark purple. Bot. Mag., t. 6505.

An old inhabitant of gardens, having been introduced about 1826 by Anderson, the botanical collector attached to Capt. King’s expedition to survey the Magellan Straits. Seeds were sent to Low’s nursery at Clapton, and a plant flowered there in 1831. It is the first of the true barberries to flower, its blossoms appearing early in April, sometimes in March. The berries are said to be used for conserves, etc., in Chile, where it extends from Tierra del Fuego to the latitude of Santiago; it is also found in Argentina. A fine example grew in the garden at Monreith, 13 ft high and 28 ft through.

cv. ‘Aureo-marginata’. – Leaves edged with golden yellow.

cv. ‘nana’. – a curious dwarf form of tufted habit, producing a thick mass of weak, unarmed stems rarely more than 18 in. high; leaves larger, rounder than in the type; flowers rarely seen. Described by Carrière in Rev. Hort., 1867, p. 260, as B. dulcis nana.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

cv. ‘Pygmaea’. – This would appear to be the correct name for the plant described in the current and earlier editions as ‘Nana’, which is also the name by which it has long been known in the trade. Unfortunately, in the earliest traceable description the epithet nana is applied to a form which is of dwarf habit but otherwise resembles the type (Revue Horticole, 1867, p. 260, as B. dulcis nana; also known as B. microphylla var. nana Dipp.). ‘Pygmaea’, on the other hand, is a semi-juvenile form having leaves in place of spines. These leaves are unusually large and borne on stalks which are partly petiole but mainly rachis, as in developing seedlings.

Whether ‘Nana’ and ‘Pygmaea’ are really distinct is open to question. A plant (bought as ‘Nana’) agreed perfectly with ‘Pygmaea’ at first but after two years started to produce shoots with normal foliage and spines and even a few flowers.

† B. microphylla Forst. – It is doubtful whether this is even varietally distinct from B. buxifolia. Dr Ahrendt, however, not only recognised it as a species, but even made it the type of a new section. It was said to differ from B. buxifolia mainly in having two ovules in the ovary against six to twelve.



Other species in the genus