The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Berberidaceae – the Barberry Family

- September 1, 2015 - - (excerpt)

Depending on the reference, the Berberidaceae consists of 9 to12 genera and 590 to 600 species of shrubs and perennial herbs that are scattered throughout the Northern Hemisphere and South America.[2, 10] It is a very diverse family. I find it at least a little difficult to think of the herbaceous may-apple (Podophyllum peltatum), which as a youngster I called umbrella plant, as being even remotely related to Barberry. The similarity most likely resides in the floral structure. Sometimes Mahonia is considered a synonym for parts of the genusBerberis. Parts of the genera Berberis and Mahonia are native to the U. S. This is the case with the species discussed here. The leaves of the family, depending on the type of plant (herb or shrub), can be on stems closely associated with the root system in some of the herbs (example may-apple) or in shrubs more aerially placed. They are alternately placed, and can be either simple or compound, and either persistent or deciduous.1Generally they are without stipules2 and are often spiny.

The flowers are radially symmetrical and bisexual3 and can be solitary or distributed in racemes4, panicles or cymes or in tight clusters. The calyx5 consists of 4-6 separate sepals, and there are also 4-6 separate petals. The sepals and petals are often similar and usually overlapping like tiles on a roof in two or more series. There can be 4-18 stamens (frequently equal to the number of petals or twice the number of petals) and when in the larger numbers, are frequently in two series. The anthers frequently discharge their pollen through a flap-like arrangement. The ovary is superior6, and consists of two or more fused carpels7, but without careful examination, appear unicarpellate.

The fruit is usually a berry8 or can be dry and distribute its seeds by opening irregularly or obliquely.[ 2, 5, 10]

Holly leaved barberry, Oregon grape, mountain grape, blue barberry, mahonia à feuilles de houx

Scientific name: Mahonia aquifolium9

Synonyms: Berberis piperiana, Berberis aquifolium

Origin: North America

Plant description: Mahonia aquifolium is a spreading to erect plant that grows from 0.1 to 2m (~3.9 to 79 in) in height. The bud scales are generally deciduous (fall off, not persistent). The compound leaves have 5-9 pairs of leaflets that are rounded to elliptical, about 3 inches (~ 7.6 cm) long with about 6 to 24 spiny teeth per side around their edge. They are lustrous green on their upper surface, the lower surface is without papillae10and they can be either flat or somewhat wavy. The leaf stalks (stems) are 1-2 inches (~2.54 – 5.1 cm) long.
The flowers are in tightly bundled racemes11 to 3 inches (~7.6 cm) in length.
The ripe fruits are dark blue to blackish and while still fresh, have a blue bloom on their surface. They are egg shaped and can be attached at either their narrow or thicker end.[5, 12 & 13]

Distribution: see map.

Blooming period: Generally early spring. Williams[13] indicates in California Berberis aquifolium, depending on the variety, blooms March to June, March to May, or April to June. In the Chicago area it blooms late April, early May.[6]

Importance as honey plants: Oertel[7], from his extensive use of nationwide surveys over a several year period, found the species Berberis aquifolium to be of some importance in Oregon. Ayers and Harman[1], from their questionnaires, found the genus Mahonia to be of some importance in WA.

Pellett[8] indicates that Berberis nervosa, for its production of harvested honey, is of only minor importance near the western coast, but because it blooms early and …

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