Berberis darwinii

Berberis darwinii is an early flowering, hardy evergreen shrub and arguably one of the finest of all ornamental flowering species within the genus. Commonly known as 'Darwin's Barberry', it was first described for the scientific community by the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865) in 1844, and published in Hooker's Icones Plantarum.

Native to Chile, Chiloe and Argentina, Berberis darwinii was discovered for Western science in 1835 by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the 'Beagle'. It was eventually introduced to English gardens by renowned plant collector William Lobb in 1849.

Berberis darwinii berries
It has a bushy habit, with a height and spread of between 8-10 ft. The leaves are small, dark-green and glossy, and three-pointed similar to holly leaves. The blooms appear in clusters during April and May. Each flower is approximately 1-1½ inches long and depending on conditions will be a rich yellow or orange tinged with red. Once pollinated these are followed by edible blue berries although they may cause a mild stomach upset. In fact there is evidence that these berries have been eaten by the prehistoric native peoples of the Patagonian region for over a thousand years.

The best time to plant Berberis darwinii is either from September to October or March to April. It is adaptable to moist soil types including clay, chalk and sandy loams so long as they are moist and well-drained. Berberis darwinii will be happy in a position of full sun to semi-shade and has proven to be tolerant of exposed conditions.

Berberis darwinii received the First Class Certificate (FCC) from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1967 and the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 1984.

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