Content Detail

A common sight in yards and gardens throughout eastern North America, this Asian shrub has invasive traits and should not be planted. Growing 3 to 6 feet tall, it is most easily identified by its small, rounded leaves, spiny stems, and red berries that develop in summer. Birds and rodents eat the fruits and distribute the seeds widely. Its branches form roots when in contact with the soil. This, and the shrub’s vigorous root system, help it form thickets. It invades woodlands such as forest preserves where it disrupts the forest ecosystem by preventing the growth of understory shrubs and other plants. Although it has been very popular in gardens over the last century, The Morton Arboretum recommends that this species not be planted and that it be removed where possible. Some cultivated varieties may be sterile, but their invasive potential is not known for sure.

  • Family (English) Barberry
  • Family (botanic) Berberidaceae
  • Tree or plant type Shrub
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Non-native
  • Size range Small shrub (3-5 feet), Medium shrub (5-8 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8
  • Soil preference Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Dry sites
  • Flower color and fragrance Yellow
  • Shape or form Mounded, Round, Thicket-forming
  • Growth rate Moderate

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife: 

Japanese barberry attracts birds which spread the berries, creating new plants that invade and overwhelm forest ecosystems.

Bark color and texture: 

This shrub has thorny stems.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture: 

The plant has small, oval leaves, often with a reddish tint. It has vivid fall color.

Plant care: 

This plant is invasive in eastern North America and should not be planted.


Your support is vital to the Arboretum, where the power of trees makes a positive impact on people’s lives.

Make a gift