Mike, the forester, with deep and living knowledge, visited us to talk about our forest and its trees–maples, oaks, pines, hickories, hemlocks, birches, poplars. As we walked, he pointed to a pleasingly-shaped shrub, said it was Japanese barberry and that it was invasive and should be removed. But it had a nice form, pretty paddle shaped leaves in two shades of green, small creamy yellow bell-shaped flowers in the spring and oval red berries in the fall, so although I didn’t doubt Mike or disagree, I chose to chart the barberry’s progress in the landscape.
Two weeks ago, driving north on the Thruway, early spring’s muted hills and fields suddenly green, I was surprised to spot seemingly endless mounds of barberry, the shrubs crowding each other like tribbles on Star Trek.
Barberry is easy to rip out of the ground–except for the merciless thorns, thin and sharp as needles for delicate work. The lemonlime main roots (the same color as the stems under their brown skin), yield easily, coming out of the ground with brown spidery tendrils, traveling off in too many directions. Likely the plants will sprout again, making removal a task of repetition, not completion.
I yanked out more than 10 plants of various sizes colonizing an area of the Groverkill. They looked appealing surrounded by the false hellebores, ferns and baby white pines. An even more attractive variety of barberry, with leaves in two shades of purple, grows around Ellen and David’s expansive pond.
There was decent evidence that the barberry plants I demo’d out were all related, connected under the soil–my own small, albeit undesirable, version of ancient and enormous Pando, the Trembling Giant, a grove of a single male quaking aspen in Utah, believed to have one massive underground root system.