barberry (bärˈbĕrˌē) [key], common name for the family Berberidaceae, and specifically for the spiny barberries ( Berberis species). The family includes perennial herbs and shrubs found in the Northern Hemisphere. The fruit is often a colorful, winter-persistent berry. The spiny barberries are primarily Asian in origin. B. vulgaris, the common barberry, is naturalized in the United States and is often cultivated for hedges, but it is a host for one stage of wheat rust, a fungal pathogen that destroys the wheat plant. The Japanese barberry ( B. thunbergii ) is resistant. Other members of the family are the blue cohosh or papooseroot ( Caulophyllum thalictroides ), the May apple (genus Podophyllum ), and the Oregon grape ( Mahonia aquifolium ), an evergreen shrub that is the floral emblem of Oregon. The edible berries of these three are sometimes used for condiments and jellies. A compound derived from barberry, berberine, is used as an antibacterial agent. The May apple was used as a medicinal by various Native American groups, and two semisynthetic podophyllotoxins, etoposide and teniposide, are used in cancer chemotherapy. The barberry family is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Ranunculales.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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