The use of the name Berberis chinensis has been a source of confusion for botanists for a long time. It has often been ascribed to a west Asian species as well as to a Chinese species. We are treating it here as the chinese species but are currently (2016) awaiting the publication of a new revision of the Chinese Berberis species that is being prepared and hopefully this will finally bring to light the correct name of this taxon[
Berberis iberica Steven ex Spreng.
Berberis serotina Lange
Berberis sinensis DC.
Berberis chinensis is an erect, spiny, deciduous shrub, much-branched from the base; it can grow up to 100cm tall[
The plant is harested from the wild for local use as a food.
All parts of the plant contain the alkaloid berberine - this is most concentrated in the roots, stems and inner bark, and least concentrated in the fruits. In small quantities berberine has a range of effective medicinal applications but, in excess, can cause vomiting, lowered blood pressure, reduced heart rate, lethargy, and other ill-effects.
The fruit of most, if not all, members of this genus are more or less edible and can be eaten in quantity since the levels of berberine in the fruit are very low.
E. Asia - China.
Sandy mountain slopes and river sands[
Plants are hardy to about -25°c[
Species in this genus generally prefer a warm moist loamy soil and light shade but re by no means fastidious, often succeeding in thin, dry and shallow soils[
]. Grows well in heavy clay soils.
Plants can be pruned back quite severely, they resprout well from the base[
This species is closely related to Berberis poiretii. C.K.Schneid., differing in its broader leaves and dark red fruits[
The range of this plant is often mistakenly given as the Caucasus, this is based on a misidentification[
Hybridizes freely with other members of this genus[
Some Berberis species (especially Berberis vulgaris) harbour the black stem-rust fungus (Puccinia graminis Persoon). This is a major disease of wheat and barley crops and can spread from infected barberries to the grain crop. The sale or transport of susceptible or untested species of Berberis is illegal in the United States and Canada[
]. This species has been found to be susceptible to the disease[
Fruit - raw or cooked[
The alkaloid berberine, which is universally present in the roots and stems of Berberis species, has marked antibacterial effects. Since it is not appreciably absorbed by the body, it is used orally in the treatment of various enteric infections, especially bacterial dysentery[
It should not be used in combination with Glycyrrhiza species (Liquorice) because this nullifies the effects of the berberine[
Berberine has also shown antitumour activity[
The roots and stems of all Berberis species contain alkaloids and, when cut open, are a strong yellow colour. This has been utilized by various cultures to make a yellow dye for cloth etc[
Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame, when it should germinate in late winter or early spring[
]. Seed from over-ripe fruit will take longer to germinate[
], whilst stored seed may require cold stratification and should be sown in a cold frame as early in the year as possible[
]. The seedlings are subject to damping off, so should be kept well ventilated[
]. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick them out into individual pots and grow them on in a cold frame. If growth is sufficient, it can be possible to plant them out into their permanent positions in the autumn, but generally it is best to leave them in the cold frame for the winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year.
Cuttings of half-ripe wood, mid summer in a frame.
Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth, preferably with a heel, autumn in a frame[