Darwins Barberry (Berberis darwinii)
How to Identify Darwins Barberry
Also known as
Mmichay, calafate, and quelung.
Native to southern Chile and Argentina and naturalized elsewhere. Moist shady woodland in the Patagonian mountains. Woodland Garden Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; Hedge;
It is an evergreen thorny shrub growing to 3–4 m tall, with dense branches from ground level. It is hardy to zone (UK) 7 and is not frost tender.
- Leaves – 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. In leaf from December to January onwards.
- Flowers – The flowers are orange, 4–5 mm long, produced in dense racemes 2–7 cm long in spring. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects, and self.The plant is self-fertile.
- Fruit – The fruit is a small purple-black berry 4–7 mm diameter, ripening in summer.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
The flowers are edible and pack a sweet, yet citrus punch. The berries are also edible, but can be quite acidic. 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
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
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.
Flowers are available in spring and taste sweetest on sunny days. The fruit are fully ripe from about July to August and can taste quite sweet, but have a lot of seeds inside.
Other members of the Berberris family, none of which are harmful.
Berberis darwinii was discovered (in Western science) in South America in 1835 by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the ‘Beagle’; however, the berries of this species were consumed by prehistoric native peoples in the Patagonian region over millennia. The species was one of many named in honour of Darwin.