Red fruits and autumn leaf colour on a plant growing in Kasugai, Aichi prefecture, Japan.
Photograph by: Alpsdake
Berberis sieboldii is an erect, spiny, deciduous shrub of rounded form; it is usually less than 90cm tall[
]. The plant spreads slowly by means of suckers, forming thickets[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food. It is grown as an ornamental in gardens.
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 - central Japan.
Prefers a warm moist loamy soil but it is by no means fastidious, succeeding in thin, dry and shallow soils[
]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers a lime-free soil[
]. Prefers a dry sunny position[
A very ornamental plant[
], it is closely related to Berberis vulgaris[
Hybridizes freely with other members of this genus[
Plants produce suckers freely, forming thickets[
]. They can be pruned back quite severely and will resprout well from the base[
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[
]. A dark red, globose fruit[
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[
Suckers, removed in late autumn/early winter and planted out in situ or potted up and planted out in late spring[