How to grow Berberis darwinii

Berberis darwinii is arguably one of the most attractive of all species within the genus. It is a compact evergreen, flowering shrub, ideal for suburban or coastal gardens, and comes with a fairly large slice of history.

It was first discovered for western science in 1835 by Charles Darwin during his epic voyage with the Beagle expedition. However it wasn't brought under commercial production until suitable plant material was retrieved from South America by renowned plant collector William Lobb in 1849.

ripened berberis fruits
How to grow Berberis darwinii
It is a hardy, evergreen species found in the moist shady woodlands of the Patagonian mountains. However, care must be taken when handling Berberis darwinii as it has a dense habit with thorny branches. Under favourable conditions it can achieve a height and spread of between 2.5-4 metres. The green, glossy leaves are quite small, approximately 1-2 cm long with 3-5 spines and have a holly-like appearance.

Drooping racemes of rich orange blooms appear in April to May. Each flower is 4–5 mm long and tinged red when in bud. These are followed by 'almost' edible blue-black berries, which may cause some stomach upset when eaten raw. That being said they are excellent in jams and preserves.

Like most other evergreen berberis, Berberis darwinii is easy to grow. In northern European climates they will be happy in full sun or partial shade and can tolerate exposed conditions as well as shallow or thin soils. It is suitable for any ordinary garden soil including heavy clay and nutritionally poor soils. Avoid planting in soils that are poorly drained or prone to waterlogging.

No regular pruning is required except to remove any old or straggly stems.

Main image credit - Simon Eade
In text image credit -  Dick Culbert

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