(Berberis vulgaris) Barberry family
Flowers - Yellow, small, odor disagreeable, 6-parted, borne in
drooping, many-flowered racemes from the leaf axils along arching
twigs. Stem: A much branched, smooth, gray shrub, to 8 ft. tall,
armed with sharp spines. Leaves: From the 3-pronged spines
oval or obovate, bristly edged. Fruit: Oblong, scarlet,
Preferred Habitat - Thickets; roadsides; dry or gravelly soil.
Flowering Season - May-June.
Distribution - Naturalized in New England and Middle States; less
common in Canada and the West. Europe and Asia.
When the twigs of barberry bushes arch with the weight of
clusters of beautiful bright berries in September, everyone must
take notice of a shrub so decorative, which receives scant
attention from us, however, when its insignificant little flowers
are out. Yet these blossoms, small as they are, are up to a
marvelous trick, quite as remarkable as the laurel's (q.v.) or
the calopogon's (q.v.), to compel insects to do their bidding.
Three of the six sepals, by their size and color, attend to the
advertising, playing the part of a corolla; and partly by curving
inward at the tip, partly by the drooping posture of the flower,
help protect the stamens, pistil, and nectar glands within from
rain. Did the flowers hang vertically, not obliquely, such
curvature of the tips of sepals and petals would be unnecessary.
Six stamens surround a pistil, but each of their six anthers,
which are in reality little pollen boxes opening by trap-doors on
either side, is tucked under the curving tip of a petal at whose
base lie two orange-colored nectar glands. A small bee or fly
enters the flower: what happens? To reach the nectar, he must
probe between the bases of two exceedingly irritable stamens. The
merest touch of a visitor's tongue against them releases two
anthers, just as the nibbling mouse all unsuspectingly releases
the wire from the hook of the wooden trap he is caught in. As the
two stamens spring upward on being released, pollen instantly
flies out of the trap-doors of the anther boxes on the bee, which
suffers no greater penalty than being obliged to carry it to the
stigma of another flower. So short are the stamens, it is
improbable that a flower's pollen ever reaches its own stigma
except through the occasional confused fumbling of a visitor.
Usually he is so startled by the sudden shower of pollen that he
flies away instantly.
In the barberry bushes, as in the gorse, when grown in dry,
gravelly situations, we see many leaves and twigs modified into
thorns to diminish the loss of water through evaporation by
exposing too much leaf surface to the sun and air. That such
spines protect the plants which bear them from the ravages of
grazing cattle is, of course, an additional motive for their
presence. Under cultivation, in well-watered garden soil - and
how many charming varieties of barberries are cultivated - the
thorny shrub loses much of its armor, putting forth many more
leaves, in rosettes, along more numerous twigs, instead. Even the
prickly-pear cactus might become mild as a lamb were it to
forswear sandy deserts and live in marshes instead. Country
people sometimes rob the birds of the acid berries to make
preserves. The wood furnishes a yellow dye.
Curiously enough it is the EUROPEAN BARBERRY that is the common
species here. The AMERICAN BARBERRY (B. Canadensis), a lower
shrub, with dark reddish-brown twigs; its leaves more distantly
toothed; its flowers, and consequently its berries, in smaller
clusters, keeps almost exclusively to the woods in the Alleghany
region and in the southwest, in spite of its specific name.
Previous: GOLDCUPS BUTTERFLOWERS BLISTERFLOWERS
Next: SPICEBUSH BENJAMINBUSH WILD ALLSPICE FEVERBUSH
|ADD TO EBOOK