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Berberidaceae: Barberry Family Plant Identification Characteristics.

Berberidaceae
Plants of the Barberry Family

      If you find an dicot plant with evergreen, holly-like leaves and flower parts in multiples of three then it is likely a member of the Barberry family. The small yellow flowers are clustered together in racemes and mature into purplish, sour berries. Members of this family may have 2 or 3 small bracts masquerading as sepals on the back of a flower, but otherwise there are typically 6 true sepals and 6 petals, often appearing in series of 3 each. The ovary is positioned superior and consists of 2 to 3 united carpels (syncarpous) forming a single chamber. It matures as a sour berry. The inner bark is a brilliant yellow, due to the presence of an intensely bitter berberine alkaloid.

      Worldwide, there are about 15 genera and 570 species in the traditional Barberry family. The description here covers only the 2 genera below, which are common in North America. Generally, Berberis includes spiny shrubs with simple, deciduous leaves, while Mahonia includes evergreen plants and shrubs with pinnate leaves consisting of 5 to 15 leaflets with spines along the edges. However, neither description works for all species, and plants from the two genera are capable of hybridizing with each other. Thus, many species are shuffled back and forth between these genera and may have duplicate names, such as Mahonia aquifolium and Berberis aquifolium.

      Taxonomists have expanded the traditional Barberry family to include the former Mayapple family (Podophyllaceae), as covered in the current edition of Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification.

Key Words: Evergreen dicot plants with floral parts in threes and bright yellow inner bark.

Please e-mail Thomas J. Elpel to report mistakes or to inquire about purchasing high resolution photos of these plants.


Mahonia repens or Berberis repens. Oregon Grape.

Mahonia repens. (Same as Berberis repens.) Oregon Grape.

Mahonia repens or Berberis repens. Oregon Grape.

Mahonia repens. (Same as Berberis repens.) Oregon Grape.

Mahonia repens or Berberis repens. Oregon Grape.

Mahonia repens. (Same as Berberis repens.) Oregon Grape.

Mahonia repens or Berberis repens. Oregon Grape.

Mahonia repens. (Same as Berberis repens.) Oregon Grape.

Mahonia fremontii. Fremont's Barberry.

Mahonia fremontii. Fremont's Barberry. Utah.

Mahonia fremontii. Fremont's Barberry.

Mahonia fremontii. Fremont's Barberry. Utah.

Mahonia aquifolium or Berberis aquifolium. Oregon Grape.

Mahonia aquifolium. (Same as Berberis aquifolium.) Oregon Grape.

Mahonia aquifolium or Berberis aquifolium. Oregon Grape.

Mahonia aquifolium. (Same as Berberis aquifolium.) Oregon Grape.

Berberis thunbergii. Japanese Barberry.

Berberis thunbergii. Japanese Barberry.

Foraging the Mountain West
Foraging the Mountain West

There are more
Barberry Family pictures
at PlantSystematics.org.


Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
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Roadmap to Reality: Consciousness, Worldviews, andthe Blossoming of Human Spirit
Roadmap
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Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction
Living
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Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills.
Participating
in Nature
Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat.
Foraging the
Mountain West
Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
Botany
in a Day
Shanleya's Quest: A Botany Adventure for Kids
Shanleya's
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