A very elegant deciduous shrub up to 5 or 6 ft high, with slender, pendulous branches; young shoots glabrous, somewhat angled, glossy; spines weak, sometimes three-parted at the base of the shoot, but mostly simple. Leaves green on both surfaces, oblanceolate or narrowly obovate, 3⁄4 to 2 in. long, 1⁄/6 to 1⁄3 in. wide; on the flowering shoots they are smaller and without teeth, but on the sterile shoots are more or less toothed; sometimes rounded, sometimes spine-tipped. Racemes 2 to 3 in. long, one of them pendent from each leaf-cluster. Flowers pale yellow, 1⁄4 in. diameter, each one borne on a thread-like stalk. Berries bright red, slender, nearly 1⁄2 in. long.
Native of N. China. The date of introduction is not certain, but it may be this species that was introduced to France by D'Incarville in the middle of the eighteenth century and thence to England. A specimen was collected near Peking by the Abbé David in 1862, but it is not certain whether he sent seed. It is one of the most attractive and graceful of deciduous barberries, flowering in remarkable profusion towards the end of May.
B. chinensis Poir. B. sinensis DC., in part. – This species has been much confused with the preceding, to which it is related but from which it differs in its broader leaves and in its darker red berries, borne on stalks 1⁄4 to 3⁄5 in. long (barely 1⁄5 in. long in B. poiretii). In spite of its name, this species is not a native of China but of Asia Minor and the Caucasus.
The name “B. sinensis” has been used for both the above species and also for B. thunbergii.
B. forrestii Ahrendt – A deciduous shrub to about 6 ft high with gracefully arching branches, which are unarmed or with only short, weak spines; young growths bright red. Leaves entire, oblong-obovate, to 22⁄5 in. long, greyish above, grey-bloomy beneath. Flowers in umbellate racemes up to 5 in. long. Berries oblong-ovoid, 2⁄5 in. long, bright red. Native of Yunnan; introduced by Forrest around 1910 and first grown as B. pallens Franch., to which it is closely allied. Dr Ahrendt points out, however, that there is some confusion over the identity of Franchet's species and prefers to keep Forrest's plants separate from it.
From the Supplement (Vol. V)
It is questionable whether this species, described in 1906, is really distinct from B. chinensis Poir., described almost a century earlier; see below. It was reintroduced by Roy Lancaster from near Peking in 1980. Judging from the seedlings, the plants should give brilliant scarlet autumn colour.
B. chinensis – As noted at the top of page 396, this species is closely allied to B. poiretii. The statement that it is a native of Asia Minor and the Caucasus should be treated with the greatest scepticism. Camillo Schneider, the leading authority on Berberis in his time, was most positive that it did come from that area, but his view was challenged by Dr Stapf in some incidental remarks appended to his article on B. vernae in Bot. Mag., under t.9089. B. chinensis was described by Poiret in 1808, from plants which were said to have been raised from seeds collected in China (probably near Peking, by French missionaries), and later was again described by de Candolle, partly also from cultivated plants, as B. sinensis. It was also introduced to Britain by Lord McCartney's Embassy to Peking (1793).
It is not certain what were the plants of the Caucasus and Asia Minor that Schneider confused with B. chinensis Poir., but in Flora of Turkey, Vol. 1, pp. 208-9, it is remarked that intermediates occur in Anatolia between B. vulgaris and B. crataegina DC., a black-fruited species common both in central Anatolia and the Caucasus. It may be that specimens of this nature are B. chinensis sensu Schneider and Ahrendt. B. crataegina is itself quite closely allied to B. chinensis/poiretii, and has indeed been considered a variety of it. Its fruits are red before eventually darkening to black.