A deciduous shrub 6 to 8 ft high, with angular, downy, grey young shoots, spines three-parted at the base of the shoot, single or absent towards the end, 1⁄2 to 1 in. long. Leaves oval to obovate, 11⁄2 to 3 in. long, up to 1 in. wide; pointed or rounded at the apex, tapering to a stalk 1⁄2 in. or less long, usually more or less toothed, sometimes conspicuously so, sometimes entire; strongly veined beneath; green and downy on both sides, but especially so beneath. Flowers pale yellow, produced in May on cylindrical, downy, pendulous racemes 3 to 4 in. long, which are very slender on account of the shortness of the individual flower-stalks. Fruit blood-red, oval, 3⁄8 in. long, closely packed in pendulous clusters. Bot. Mag., t. 9236.
Native of China; collected by Wilson in the mountains of W. Hupeh in 1901 and again in 1905. It was first considered by Schneider to be a form of B. brachypoda Maxim., under which name it was distributed by the Arnold Arboretum and given an Award of Merit when shown by Vicary Gibbs of Aldenham in 1923. For this reason it used to be known in gardens as “B. brachypoda gibbsii”. It is one of the most easily recognised of barberries on account of the downy leaves and young shoots, and the slender racemes of flowers. Autumn colour red.
The true B. brachypoda Maxim, comes from farther north, in the provinces of Kansu and Shensi. It was discovered by the Russian explorer Piasezski, to whom we owe the first knowledge of Buddleia alternifolia. It is more compact in habit than B. mitifolia and has berries of a brighter red, but is rare in cultivation. Another related species is B. giraldii Hesse, but this has leaves up to 4 in. in length, and considerably longer racemes. It comes from the same region as B. brachypoda, where it was discovered by the Italian missionary Giraldi, and distributed by Hesse's nurseries, Germany. It colours brilliantly in the autumn and the unfolding leaves, too, are tinged with red. Lastly there is B. gilgiana Fedde, which is similar to B. mitifolia but has somewhat narrower leaves and red-brown or purple stems. It is rare in this country, but grown in the United States, where it is valued for its brilliant red fruits and autumn colour. Introduced by Purdom from the Tapai Shan, Shensi, in 1910-11. All these species are characterised by their spike-like racemes and downy young shoots; the leaves are also downy, at least beneath.