Long known as Berberis buxifolia, taxonomists have found an earlier name for the plant and so now it needs to be called Berberis microphylla[
This is a very variable species, especially in the shape of the leaf, and the plant has at times been treated as a number of distinct species. However, these variations aries mainly as a result of the habitat in which the plant grows and are not consistent even within the local population, so recognizing even a variety at this point seems unwarranted[
Berberis antucoana C.K.Schneid.
Berberis barilochensis Job
Berberis buxifolia Lam.
Berberis cristata (Lam.) Lavallée
Berberis cuneata DC.
Berberis dulcis Sweet
Berberis heterophylla Juss. ex Poir.
Berberis inermis Pers.
Berberis magellanica Dippel
Berberis marginata Gay
Berberis minor J.R.Forst. ex DC.
Berberis morenonis Kuntze
Berberis parodii Job
Berberis rotundifolia Lindl.
Berberis spinosa Comm. ex Decne.
Berberis spinosissima (Reiche) Ahrendt
Berberis tricuspidata Sm. ex DC.
Common Name: Magellan Barberry
Berberis microphylla is an erect, spiny, evergreen shrub, much branched from the base; it can grow up to 300cm tall[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and source of a dye. It is often grown as an ornamental, especially its dwarf form, and is also used to make hedges and screens.
The plant has escaped from cultivation in some areas, such as Ireland[
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.
S. America - southern Chile and southern Argentina
Coastal scrub, forest margins, clearings and moister areas in grass[
]. A shrub ol disturbed habitats, doing especially well in pastures and along roads; at elevations from sea level in the south of its range to 2,500 metres in the north[
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Berberis microphylla is a fairly hardy plant, it can tolerate occasional winter temperatures falling as low as -15°c[
], though it can be deciduous in cold winters[
Prefers a warm moist loamy soil and light shade but it is by no means fastidious, succeeding in thin, dry and shallow soils and in full sun[
]. Grows well in heavy clay soils.
The dwarf Berberis microphylla nana is the form of this species that is most commonly found growing in Britain. It is very free flowering but to date (1994) we have not seen this form bearing fruit[
]. The species is supposed to be self-fertile so it is possible that this form is sterile.
Hybridizes freely with other members of this genus[
Plants can be pruned back quite severely and 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[
]. We have no data on susceptibility for this species[
Fruit - raw or used in conserves[
]. Freely borne in Britain. Large and black with a pleasant flavour, they are eaten out of hand[
]. Said to be the best flavoured of the South American barberries, the fruit is hardly acid and but slightly astringent[
]. The green unripe fruits can be used like gooseberries in pies etc[
]. The subglobose berries are 7 - 11mm in diameter[
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 dwarf form, var. 'Nana' makes a good dwarf hedge to 1 metre tall[
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. Roots in 4 - 8 weeks[
]. Pot up in spring[
Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth, preferably with a heel, autumn in a frame[
Some forms produce suckers[