Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hi, Ho, Red and Silver Away

our Japanese barberry on a frosty day

During winter, our Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is full of red berries. It seems to keep up with the holiday spirit --- the fruits as little red Christmas balls and the shrub as a Christmas tree, albeit without the ever-green leaves. And on a frosty day, it takes a magical appearance as the shoots and branches glisten like silver, its sheen competing with the luscious color of the berries. Red and silvery white, even without the green, spells Christmas. Like Santa Claus with his suit and long beard. Or Rudolf, with its shiny nose lighting the snow covered path.

I am not very fond of tending this shrub (we have around 4 of them) because of its very thorny shoots and branches. Imagine 3-cm long thorns scratching your hands, arms and head as you try to weed, cut or just pick up the dried fallen branches. And they are so sharp that they can sometimes prick you through your gloves or clothes. BUT they are nice to have in the garden. If you use them as your hedge plants, burglars will surely find difficulty going through them. As ornamental plants, they flower from mid-spring to early summer with tiny pale yellow blossoms. The ones we have are atropurpurea cultivars and their maroon/purple colored foliage break the monochromatic green of the rest of our shrubs.

And even though they shed their leaves when cold season comes, their bright little fruits take the relay of bringing a dash of color in our garden. The elongated berries (hence the name “bar”-berry, although there exists spherical ones as well) are edible, vitamin-c rich with a very tangy flavor. I haven’t tried eating them, but birds seem to like them a lot. The berries are used to make jams, infusions or in some dishes with rice or chicken. In Iran, Berberis vulgaris plants are cultivated for their fruits. But in Canada, the plant’s use is restricted or banned because they host the fungus that causes wheat rust (source: wikipedia). Well, as the saying goes “one man’s weed is another man’s flower.”

So far, our shrubs aren’t yet a nuisance for us (except when we have to cut them). And we don’t have to worry about feeding the birds during winter; there’s a “buffet” waiting for them in our garden, courtesy of our barberries. Plus, we have a natural Christmas d├ęcor --- twiggy shrubs with tiny bright red balls. Add a good amount of frost and they turn into silver-coated branches covered in “sugar-dusted” berry candies equal to winter holidays feast for birds (literally) and men alike (figuratively).


The Bumbles said...

Well, for a troublesome shrub it sure is beautiful! When I get ready to begin thinking about plants for our garden I will have to pick your brain - I have a brown thumb so can use all the help I can find!!!

Unknown said...

Oh I LOVE the frost on the berries and branches!

lareine said...

to the bumbles: if the truth be known, i'm a "wannabe" gardener... i have my fair share of plants that died, that live a short life or seeds that never even grow:)... that's why i usually go for seeds... they're not that expensive compared to already grown plants or seedlings... but of course, you're welcome to any information or any of my experience in gardening... i'm glad to be of service :)

to lisaschaos: thanks! it was a lovely day when i took those photos... it was cold but everything seems to sparkle:)

Anonymous said...

Lovely photos. The red berries and the ice go together so well. Well it's a new year now and we go forward hoping for the best. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me and visiting. I am very glad you are still blogging and doing such a great job of it.

lareine said...

to david: i wish you all the best, too... and it's always a pleasure visiting your site... hope to read more of your inspiring and "i-can-relate" posts:)

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