BARBERRY PEPPERIDGEBUSH





(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

(thorns); oval or obovate, bristly edged. Fruit: Oblong, scarlet,

acid berries.

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.





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