Barberry Family

May-apple Japanese Barberry Japanese Barberry May-apple

What are they?

The Barberry Family is a rather odd family, consisting of a strange bunch of shrubs, sub-shrubs and herbacous plants which at a glance appear to have little or nothing in common. But it should always be remembered that plants are classified according to flower structure and it is the similarities in the flower that betray the common ancestry. Barberries actually have six (up to nine in May-apple) petals, but may appear to have more as the six sepals are often similar to the petals in color and shape.

Where are they found?

A very diverse group found in many different habitats, but those in the coastal New Jersey area are typically plants of shady woodland.


Identification is straight forward for the two species covered here, though other barberry species may occasionally be found as garden throughouts, so care should be taken if any plant found does not seem to closely match any species here.

Japanese Barberry      Berberis thunbergii

An introduced species from eastern Asia which has become an invasive problem in some parts of the USA but doesn't appear to have become so in Cape May County. Single plants occasionally found where the seeds have been spread by birds. Stems bear long spines. Has excellent autumn color. Flowers late July to September.
Japanese Barberry Japanese Barberry Japanese Barberry Japanese Barberry
Flowers in trusses of 1-5
New leaves in rosettes
Winter twig

May-apple      Podophyllum peltatum

A frequent to common species of shady woodland, often forming quite extensive patches. Flowers late April to June.
May-apple May-apple May-apple May-apple
Leaves arise singly
from below ground