Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Japanese Barberry

What a lovely sight to come across while walking in the woods. Well, if your goal is to maintain a healthy ecosystem full of native plants, this is not a lovely sight at all. This is Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii, one of the latest exotic invasives to visit Blue Jay Barrens.

Barberry is a low growing shrub that is hard to notice in the woodland understory. While it is capable of growing in an open field, its preferred mode of entry into a new territory is through colonization of full or open woods.

As they grow, the branches fall outward in a long arch that falls over surrounding vegetation. The branches continue to produce leaves that reduce sunlight penetration. The covered plants begin to weaken and die, reducing competition to the Barberry.

The leaves have a distinctive shape. The broad oval leaf reduces to a long taper down the petiole. There are some chew marks on these leaves, but native insects generally don’t feed on exotic invasive plants. One of the threats to native ecosystems posed by exotic plants is the loss of native insect populations dependent upon the native plants displaced by the invaders.

The bright red berries are eaten by birds and mammals that go on to spread the seeds over the surrounding area. I can see why people found this to be an attractive landscape plant.

Of course we have to add thorns to the mix. I’ve already been scratched and torn by Multiflora Rose and Autumn Olive. I guess Barberry is the next contender. I’d like to think I’ll be able to get ahead of the Barberry and eliminate it, but I doubt that’ll be the case.

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