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Japanese Barberry (Invasive)

Scientific name: Berberis thunbergii

Once this ornamental shrub, which originated in Asia, was widely used by landscapers as a foundation plant. Sadly, it has escaped into our woodlands and backyards, where it is now causing serious problems. In New York State, it has been identified as one of the most problematic invasive species.

Given that the deer don’t eat it, barberry has spread widely through the understory, displacing native plants and changing the chemistry of the soil. Shockingly, studies have been done which prove that the Japanese Barberry harbor ticks at a very high rate which in turn is responsible for Lyme disease.

Learn more in this informative video.

Our understory has been dominated by this invasive plant.


Small red berries are eaten by birds, who disperse the seeds into the forests where they quickly propagate.

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These grow and thrive in many settings. Originally they were planted around homes and commercial buildings by landscapers, but now they can be spotted growing in most woodland settings.


Small red berries are eaten by birds, who disperse the seeds into the forests where they quickly propagate.

Ecosystem Connections

The Japanese Barberry creates a humid environment which harbors ticks and mice, both of which are known to cause the spread of Lyme disease.


Human Connections

Originally, these were prized for their attractive foliage and used decoratively.

How You Can Help

Please don’t even plant these. There are many good options which will bring birds and butterflies to your garden!

Volunteer to help your local organizations that maintain your trails and preserves. It takes a lot of work to remove barberries.

More on Trees and Shrubs in Lewisboro

Lewisboro was once entirely forested except for patches of open field caused by fire and wetlands and ponds which were expanded by beaver dams. Although it is hard to believe, by 1800 most of Lewisboro’s forests had been cut down and replaced by farms. In 1820 so many trees had been cleared that there was no shade anywhere along the route from Boston to New York.[1] But by the mid-1800’s farming here became uneconomical and as farms were abandoned, the forests began to re-grow. Today, 70% of New York is once again forest, what some call ‘the great environmental story of the United States’[2]. These new forests provide us with beauty and recreation, clean air and water, flood control, erosion prevention, carbon sequestration, cooler temperatures and habitat for other plants, insects, birds and other wildlife.

[1] Cronon, William. Changes in the Land. Macmillan, 1983.

[2] An Explosion of Green. B. Mckibben. Atlantic Monthly 275 (April 1995): 61-83.