AskDefine | Define Berberis

Dictionary Definition

Berberis n : large genus of shrubs of temperate zones of New and Old Worlds [syn: genus Berberis]

Extensive Definition

Berberis (Bér-be-ris, barberry, pepperidge bush) a genus of about 450-500 species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs from 1-5 m tall with thorny shoots, native to the temperate and subtropical regions of Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and South America. They are closely related to the genus Mahonia, which is included within Berberis by some botanists.
The genus is characterised by dimorphic shoots, with long shoots which form the structure of the plant, and short shoots only 1-2 mm long. The leaves on long shoots are non-photosynthetic, developed into three-spined thorns 3-30 mm long; the bud in the axil of each thorn-leaf then develops a short shoot with several normal, photosynthetic leaves. These leaves are 1-10 cm long, simple, and either entire, or with spiny margins. Only on young seedlings do leaves develop on the long shoots, with the adult foliage style developing after the young plant is 1-2 years old.
The deciduous species (e.g. Berberis thunbergii, B. vulgaris) are noted for good autumn colour, the leaves turning pink or red before falling. In some evergreen species from China (e.g. B. candidula, B. verruculosa), the leaves are brilliant white beneath, making them particularly attractive.
The flowers are produced singly or in racemes of up to 20 on a single flower-head. They are yellow or orange, 3-6 mm long, with six sepals and six petals in alternating whorls of three, the sepals usually coloured like the petals. The fruit is a small berry 5-15 mm long, ripening red or dark blue, often with a pink or violet waxy surface bloom; they may be either long and narrow (like a bar, hence 'barberry') or in other species, spherical.
The berries are edible, and rich in vitamin C, though with a very sharp flavour; the thorny shrubs make harvesting them difficult, so in most places they are not widely consumed. They are an important food for many small birds, which disperse the seeds in their droppings. In Iran, the dried fruits, known as zereshk, are more widely used, imparting a tart flavor to chicken dishes. In Ukraine, they are used as the flavouring in a popular candy of the same name. In Kazakhstan the dried fruits are used to add flavour to a traditional dish Plov (lamb with rice). Historically, yellow dye was extracted from the stem, root, and bark.
Berberis species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Mottled Pug.
Several are popular garden shrubs, grown for their ornamental leaves, yellow flowers, and red or blue-black berries. They are also valued for crime prevention; being very dense, viciously spiny shrubs, they make very effective barriers impenetrable to burglars. For this reason they are often planted below potentially vulnerable windows, and used as hedges and other barriers.
Berberis buxifolia (Calafate) and Berberis darwinii (Michay) are two species found in Patagonia in Argentina and Chile. Their edible purple fruits are used for jams and infusions; anyone who tries a berry is said to be certain to return to Patagonia. The calafate and michay are symbols of Patagonia.
Berberis vulgaris (European Barberry) is the alternate host species of the wheat rust Puccinia graminis, a serious fungal disease of wheat. For this reason, cultivation of this species is prohibited in many areas.
Some Berberis have become invasive species when planted outside of their native ranges, including B. glaucocarpa and B. darwinii in New Zealand (where it is now banned from sale and propagation), and B. thunbergii in some parts of North America.

Selected species


Zereshk (زرشک) is the Persian name for the dried fruit of Berberis vulgaris, which are widely cultivated in Iran. Iran is the largest producer of zereshk and saffron in the world. Zereshk is the fruit of a type of barberry bush. Zereshk and saffron are produced on the same land and the harvest is at the same time. The South Khorasan province in Iran is the main area of zereshk production. A garden of zereshk is called zereshk-estan. It has a sour taste and is often used in dishes involving chicken. It is usually cooked with rice, called zereshk polo, and provides a nice meal with chicken. Zereshk jamphoto, zereshk juicephoto, and zereshk fruit rollsphoto are also produced in Iran.
In colloquial Persian, zereshk is used as a term for showing dissent or disagreement, similar to the usage of "blowing a raspberry" in English. Although not a vulgar term in that context, it is not used in polite speech.



External links

  • Berberine Thoughts - Informative but non-scholarly essay on Barberry & Berberis (Culture, History and Etymology).

See also

Berberis in Belarusian: Барбарыс
Berberis in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Барбарыс
Berberis in Catalan: Coralet
Berberis in Danish: Berberis-slægten
Berberis in German: Berberitzen
Berberis in Spanish: Berberis
Berberis in Persian: زرشک
Berberis in French: Berbéris
Berberis in Upper Sorbian: Kisyca
Berberis in Italian: Berberis
Berberis in Pampanga: Berberis
Berberis in Lithuanian: Raugerškis
Berberis in Dutch: Berberis
Berberis in Polish: Berberys
Berberis in Portuguese: Berberis
Berberis in Quechua: T'ankar
Berberis in Russian: Барбарис
Berberis in Simple English: Barberry
Berberis in Finnish: Happomarjat
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