Japanese barberry

Flowers and leaves of Japanese barberry.

A common sight in yards and gardens throughout eastern North America, this Asian shrub is invasive and should not be planted. Growing three to six 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.

Botanical name:

Berberis thunbergii

All Common Names:

Japanese barberry, barberry

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Size Range:

  • Medium shrub (5-8 feet),
  • Small shrub (3-5 feet)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8

Shape or Form:

  • Mounded,
  • Round,
  • Thicket-forming

More Information:

Tree & Plant Care

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

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife

Attracts birds, which spread the berries to invade and overwhelm forest ecosystems.

Bark color and texture 

Thorny stems

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Small, oval leaves, often with a reddish tint, vivid fall color.

Cultivars and their differences 

Some cultivars are said to be sterile, but their invasive potential is not known.


Location of Berberis thunbergii (Japanese barberry) at the Arboretum