The many species of berberries in a wild state are mere sbrubs, but when cultivated attain considerable elevation, sometimes arriving at the height of thirty feet. The common berberry when raised for ordinary purposes, such as hedging, requires but little culture, but when grown for ornament the lower branches to the height of eight feet of its trunk should be trimmed; so, also, the many suckers which it throws out should be removed as they appear. Treated in this way, and nourished by a deep, well-manured soil, it forms a singularly beautiful tree, and will endure to a great age. Its growth is rapid, of an upright stem, with branched, drooping foliage. It is indigenous to both the Eastern and Western hemispheres; and in the United States has naturalized itself in waste places and about cultivated grounds, in which situations it is found of ordinary thrift, more especially on calcareous soils. Its blossoms, which appear in April, May, and June, are of a yellow color, abundant, and produce a pleasing appearance; but in order to reduce the number of bunches, and so increase the size of its fruit, the racemes of its flowers should be thinned out. It bears a fruit of an oblong, oval form, which, when ripe, is of a red, white, purple, or black color, according to variety of species. Its berries, while green, pickled in vinegar make a good substitute for capers, also as a flavoring, and when fermented produce an acid wine; when ripe, and prepared as jellies and other preserves, they are considered delicious and extremely wholesome. Its leaves, which are acid in taste, might be used, like sorrel, to season meat with; a yellow dye is procured from the inner bark of both the stem and roots, and its astringent principle is so abundant that it is sometimes used in tanning leather, which it dyes a fine yellow. Medicinally its bark is purgative and tonic.
There exists a prejudice against the berberry as a hedge-plant, on account of its supposed influence in producing blight in corn-crops when sown in proximity thereto, by impoverishing the soil through the agency of its numerous suckers. Yarieties are raised by suckers, but when an original species is required seed is used in its propagation.
"beebebis aquifolium," oe the holly-leaved beebeeey.
Of this genus there are four species—Berberris repens, aquifolium, pinnata, and nervosa—which have green, unequally pennate leaves, and dark globose berries. The holly-leaved berberry is a shrub of considerable beauty, and is on this account cultivated in gardens and by florists, who find a large sale for it as a flowering-shrub. The species Aquifolium inhabits the coast-range mountains, and delights in the high altitudes common to the middle elevations of the Big Horn and Wolf ranges, the head-waters of Arkansas, and in the Capatoon ranges. It is generally found abundantly upon exposures to the south and east, in the rich vegetable mould which covers these hill-sides, and upon almost barren, rocky places, especially the felspathic granite, and porphyritic formations. It flowers in May, and ripens its fruit in August and September. The fruit is acidulous, and in flavor reminds one of the lime; dark purple in color, and covered with a bluish bloom.
The botanical description of the holly-leaved berberry is as follows: It is a shrub which grows to the height of six feet, on the Pacific coast, with leaflets in pairs from seven to eleven; the lower pair distant from the stem, ovate to oblong-lanceolate, one and one half to four inches long, acuminate, evergreen, shining above, numerous spinous teeth; racemes one and one half to two inches long, clustered chiefly in the subterminal axils; fruit globose.
The root of this plant is the part which is used as medicine. It is extremely hard and tough, of a bright, golden-yellow color, with an intense but pleasant bitter taste. It yields its virtues to water and dilute alcohol, and makes a very good medicinal preparation. The medicinal extracts of this plant are useful in the complaint known as " mountain fever," which is a bilious fever often assuming the typhoid form; and they are also valuable in venereal affections, and in disorders of the stomach arising from improper and insufficient food, privations, etc., to which persons are often subjected in the western mountain country. Its berries are often employed as a remedy in scurvy, and are made into sauce and used as food.