Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Darwin's Barberry (Berberis darwinii) is invasive in cool, wet eucalypt-dominated forests of south-eastern Australia.
  • It has been grown in Australia as an ornamental shrub for its holly-like foliage and yellow flowers since at least 1916.
  • It is potentially a host of serious fungal pathogens (Puccinia spp.) of cereal crops and is prohibited from importation into Australia.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Darwin's Barberry (Berberis darwinii) is an evergreen shrub, growing mostly to 1–2 m (rarely to 4 m) high with young branches covered in fine rusty hairs. The leaves are arranged in clusters of 3–7 along the stems, are broadest toward their tips, 1–3 cm long, 8–18 mm wide and rather stiff and somewhat holly-like, with three spines at the tips and up to three teeth along each side. At the base of each leaf is a five-pronged spine about 5 mm long.

The flowers are produced in elongated clusters up to 5 cm long. Each cluster consists of 8–20 narrowly cup-shaped flowers each about 5 mm long, with six smaller reddish segments surrounding nine longer bright yellow petals. The fruits are dark purple to nearly black berries, 6–9 mm long, covered with a pale waxy bloom.

Each fruit contains two seeds (Walsh 1996).

For further information and assistance with identification of Darwin's Barberry contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour


Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Darwin's Barberry has naturalised in cool, moist, mostly eucalypt-dominated forests. On the mainland, sites where it has naturalised have an average annual rainfall of approximately 1000–1400 mm per year, at an altitude between 300 and 1000 m. Sites of naturalisation in Tasmania may be as low as 150 m above sea level and the rainfall may be as much as 2000 mm per year. Soils in these areas are typically fertile mountain loams or clay loams (Tasmanian Herbarium 2007; National Herbarium of Victoria 2007; Bureau of Meteorology).

Are there similar species?

Darwin's Barberry and Holly (Ilex aquifolium) has similarly spine-toothed leaves and occurs as a weed in similar habitats, but the leaves of Holly are generally larger and glossier, and the red (not purplish) berries are produced in clusters not longer than the leaves.

Other species of Berberis are cultivated in Australia. Cultivated species include B. atrocarpa, B. microphylla, B. coxii, B. × stenophylla and B. thunbergii. The last of these is distinguished by its deciduous, non-spiny leaves, and the other species differ from Darwin's Barberry in having longer leaves (Spencer 1997).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Little is documented on the species behaviour and impacts in Australia. It forms locally dense thickets in wet forest in New Zealand (Allen 1991).

Native and urban ecosystems: In Victoria, at least, the species appears to have now established well away from any garden source, particularly along tracks and roadsides, in high-quality, tall open forest (Walsh 2008 pers. comm.) and may sometimes establish on ground disturbed by Lyrebirds and Wombats (Blood 2001).

Agriculture: Species of Berberis are obligate hosts for a stage of the life cycle of species of Puccinia, a rust that can have devastating effects on cereal crops. For this reason, Berberis species are prohibited for import into Australia (Spencer 1997).

How does it spread?

Fruits are known to be bird dispersed in New Zealand, where successful seedling recruitment was almost entirely dependent on bird-dispersal of fruits. Seedlings would not succeed under the canopy of parent plants (Allen 1991; McAlpine & Jesson 2007). It is expected that they disperse in a similar way in Australia.

What is its history in Australia?

Darwin's Barberry has been grown as an ornamental shrub in Australia since at least 1916 (National Herbarium of Victoria 2007). It is most extensively naturalised in Victoria, and although not recorded as occurring spontaneously in that state by Ewart (1930), was first noted as having naturalised in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne some time before 1970 (Willis 1973).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Chemical control: There are no control methods specific to Darwin's Barberry found for Australia, but techniques common to woody weeds (e.g., 'drill and fill', injecting a suitable herbicide into drill holes at the base of the plant) are probably the most appropriate (Muyt 2001).

Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au 

Non-chemical control: Physical control: In New Zealand control methods include hand-pulling of young plants and cutting stems prior to painting with herbicide (Christchurch City Council 2008). Research into the biology of the plant in New Zealand provides useful information for non-chemical control of the species: 'the first priority for control should be to remove the seed source (adult plants). Follow-up seedling control need only continue for 1–2 years, since the seed bank is short-lived. When the seed source cannot be completely removed and re-invasion is likely, seedling control can be concentrated on high light environments, because first-year seedlings occurring in the shade will largely die out naturally. Plants growing in high light can produce fruit within two years, so new seedlings should be removed within this time frame wherever possible' (McAlpine & Lesson 2007).

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Plants flower between September and November, and fruits ripen by about March (National Herbarium of Victoria 2007). Plants mostly commence flowering at about four years after germination (Allen 1991).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Darwin's Barberry has been recorded from the Blue Mountains and the Yarrangobilly area (south-west of Canberra) in New South Wales; from the Dandenong Ranges, Kinglake and Toolangi areas (east and north-east of Melbourne) in Victoria; and in Tasmania from near Launceston, Hobart, and Queenstown in the south-west of the state (AVH 2008; Tasmanian Herbarium 2007; National Herbarium of Victoria 2007).

Where does it originate?

Darwin's Barberry originates from Chile and Argentina (Spencer 1997).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Berberis darwinii

Other scientific names (synonyms)?


Does it have other known common name(s)?


Blackberry – a community-driven approach in Victoria

Blackberry the weed (Rubus fruticosus aggregate) was first introduced to Australia by European settlers in the mid-1800s as a fruit. It was recognised as a weed by mid-1880s. Blackberry is a serious issue across Australia. It is estimated that blackberry infests approximately 8.8 million hectares of land at an estimated cost of $103 million in annual control and production losses.

Read Case Study