Herbs & Plants

Berberis darwinii

Botanical Name: Berberis darwinii
Family: Berberidaceae
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Ranunculales
Genus: Berberis
Species: B. darwinii

*Berberis costulata Gand.
*Berberis darwinii var. magellanica Ahrendt
*Berberis knightii (Lindl.) K.Koch
*Mahonia knightii Lindl.

Common Names: Darwin’s Barberry, Michay

Habitat: Berberis darwinii is native to S. America – S. Argentina, S. Chile. It grows on the moist shady woodland in the Patagonian mountains.

Berberis darwinii is an evergreen Shrub growing to 3 m (9ft) by 3.5 m (11ft) at a medium rate. It has dense branches from ground level. It is in leaf all year, in flower from April to May, and the seeds ripen from July to August. The leaves are small oval, 12–25 mm long and 5–12 mm broad, with a spiny margin; they are borne in clusters of 2–5 together, subtended by a three-branched spine 2–4 mm long. The flowers are orange, 4–5 mm long, produced in dense racemes 2–7 cm long in spring. The fruit is a small purple-black berry 4–7 mm diameter, ripening in summer.
. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Insects. The plant is self-fertile.


Berberis darwinii was discovered (in Western science) in South America in 1835 by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the ‘Beagle’. It was one of many named in honour of Darwin. The berries of this species are known to have been consumed by prehistoric native peoples in the Patagonian region over millennia.

Prefers a warm moist loamy soil in full sun or light shade but it is by no means fastidious, succeeding in thin, dry and shallow soils. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Succeeds on chalky soils if other conditions are suitable but prefers an acid soil. Dislikes exposure to strong winds according to one report. whilst others say that it is a very wind hardy plant, tolerating maritime exposure. Does not flower well in exposed positions. Plants growing in a very exposed position on our trial grounds in Cornwall are flowering and fruiting well, they are rather slow growing but are looking very happy and healthy. A very ornamental plant, it is hardy to about -15°c. A good bee plant. Birds love this fruit and will happily eat it all before it is fully ripe. If you want to experience the fully ripe fruit then it might be necessary to find ways of keep the birds off the plants[K]. Hybridizes freely with other members of this genus. Plants can be pruned back quite severely, they resprout well from the base. This species is notably resistant to honey fungus. Special Features:Not North American native.

Edible Uses:
Fruits are eaten – raw or cooked and used in preserves. An acid but very pleasant flavour, children seem particularly fond of the fruit. When fully ripe, the fruit loses most of its acidity and makes very pleasant eating. Unfortunately there is a lot of seed compared to the amount of flesh and this does detract somewhat from the pleasure of eating it. The fruit goes very well raw in a muesli or cooked in a porridge. The fruits are about 7mm long.

Medicinal Uses:
The root bark is tonic. Berberine, universally present in all parts of Berberis species but especially the rhizomes, has marked antibacterial effects, especially upon the urinary system. Since it is not appreciably absorbed by the body, it is used orally in the treatment of various enteric infections, especially bacterial dysentery. It should not be used with Glycyrrhiza species (Liquorice) because this nullifies the effects of the berberine. Berberine has also shown antitumour activity.

Other Uses:
Landscape Uses:Border, Erosion control, Pest tolerant, Hedge, Massing, Seashore. Plants are very amenable to trimming and can be used as a formal hedge. They also make a very good informal hedge, their long arching branches looking especially attractive when in flower or bearing fruit. The plants tolerate maritime exposure though they are slow growing. A yellow dye is obtained from the root and bark.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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