Thursday, March 22, 2012

Plant profile: Berberis linearifolia

Latin name: Berberis linearifolia ("BER-ber-iss lin-ee-are-ee-FOLE-ee-ah")
Common name: Berberis
Originally from: Chile
Blooms: Spring brings clusters of light orange flowers all over the plant, like tiny grape bunches.
Light: Full sun to part shade
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water!
Height x width: 4-6' x 4-6'
Zones: 4a-8b
Where to find in P. Garden: A tall specimen stands on the right side of the brights bed.

This Chilean evergreen is a nice tough, woody shrub. I got this plant as a somewhat weedy little specimen from the San Francisco Botanical Garden sale in March 2009. I wanted something tough, prickly (to deter people from crashing through the beds) and drought tolerant, and that's what I got.

The color of the flowers on our one is a bit unusual - a lighter orange, yet not peach - but not unpleasant. They are often more of a reddinsh-orange. The plant makes a nice tall accent but you can prune them into a hedge or any other shape you like too.

According to some sources you shouldn't eat the berries it produces in the fall - you'll get a mildly upset stomach. Other sources say they're packed with vitamin C and make a sour but interesting jelly with enough sugar added. I recommend leaving them for the birds to enjoy. Berberis microphylla or the similar Berberis heterophylla (both known as 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.  Zereshk is the Persian name for the dried fruit of Berberis vulgaris, which are widely cultivated in Iran.

UPDATE December 2015:
After 6 years in the ground and 4 years of drought, this plant grew to 10' tall but is currently about 3/4 brown, dead branches. I'm going to cut it back this winter and see if it comes back. 

UPDATE June 2016:
It survived! What a tough plant.

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