A deciduous shrub to 9 ft high, with arching, dark red stems. Spines yellow, single or three-parted, less than 1⁄2 in. long. The sessile leaves are elliptic, to 1⁄2 in. long, dull green above and greyish beneath. Flowers borne in July in dense panicles. Berries oblong to oval, about 1⁄3 in. long, black with a blue bloom. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 22.
This species was discovered by Kingdon Ward in 1924 in S.E. Tibet, on the Gyala Pass (KW 5962). On the same expedition he collected another new species – B. johannis – under KW 5936. The labels on the plants raised at Exbury were accidentally exchanged, with the result that the high praise accorded to KW 5936 by the late Lionel de Rothschild at the Tree and Shrub Conference of 1938 (Report, pp. 71-2) really belongs to B. gyalaica. As was pointed out by J. R. Sealy in his note accompanying the plate in the Botanical Magazine, the combination of red autumn foliage and dark-coloured berries that renders this species so striking is almost unique – for nearly all barberries that colour well in the autumn have red fruits. The paniculate inflorescence, though shared with B. aggregata and its allies, is also rare among the Old World barberries, although common in those of S. America. B. gyalaica grows vigorously, but Dr Ahrendt has found it somewhat tender in the climate of Oxfordshire.
B. sherriffii Ahrendt – A closely related species, collected in S.E. Tibet in 1938 by Ludlow, Sherriff, and Taylor (LST 6629). It is quite hardy in the R.H.S. Garden at Wisley and very attractive in fruit. Another close ally of B. gyalaica – B. taylorii Ahrendt – was introduced by the same expedition (LST 7163).