Pennsylvania banning invasive Japanese Barberry shrub

Regional News

Pennsylvania is phasing in ban of invasive Japanese Barberry plant due to its harmful effects on the ecosystem. (pic from PA Department of Agriculture)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WTAJ) — A new shrub was added to a list of noxious weeds in Pennsylvania, which includes plants that cannot be legally sold or cultivated in the state.

The Japanese Barberry, or Berberis thunbergii, is a popular, non-native, ornamental shrub with dense, prickly thickets that crowd out plants and disrupt native ecosystems, according to the PA Department of Agriculture. It also harbors black-legged ticks that spread Lyme disease.

The enforcement of the ban will be phased in over two years to allow time for nurseries to eliminate it from their stock, find non-harmful alternatives and develop seedless, sterile varieties that pose less threat to the environment and agriculture, the department added.

Additionally, property owners are encouraged to eliminate the shrub on their land.

“Many seemingly attractive plants can actually harm our environment, our food supply and our health,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. “Pennsylvania does not take banning the sale of a plant lightly. Prevention is the best alternative — choosing native plants that harbor pollinators and allow a healthy, natural ecosystem. Carefully considering the potential impact of what we plant can prevent lasting damage that is difficult, expensive or impossible to reverse.”

It’s reported the Japanese Barberry was brought to the U.S. from Japan and eastern Asia in the 1800s to be planted as an ornamental. Now, it is commonly used as a landscape shrub because of its fall coloring and resistance to deer.

However, in the past several years, officials have found it to be a “prolific invader that can easily spread into woodlands, pastures, fields and natural areas.”

The department of agriculture determined the timeline of the two-year rollout of the ban as follows:

  • November 2021 – Nursery and landscape businesses will receive notice from the department, advising them to immediately begin adjusting propagation, ordering and planting of Japanese barberry to decrease inventory.
  • Fall 2022 – The department will issue letters of warning to any plant merchant still selling Japanese barberry, providing a date in Fall 2023 after which remaining inventory will be subject to a destruction order. 
  • Fall 2023 – The department will issue Stop Sale and destruction orders to plant merchants selling or distributing Japanese barberry.

On Oct. 8, the department also added two other plants to the noxious weed list: garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, and Japanese stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum. The department said these plants are not typically sold in nurseries, but they are invasive and common throughout Pennsylvania. Any landowner with them on their property are encouraged to remove them.

For more information on noxious, controlled and poisonous plants in Pennslyvania, head to the department of agriculture’s website.

For comprehensive information about controlling invasive species throughout the commonwealth, head to the Governor’s Invasive Species Council webpage.

Additionally, merchants with any questions should contact ra-plant@pa.gov.

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