Berberis thunbergii var. atropurpurea
Common name: 
Purple (Red) Leafed Japanese Barberry
BER-ber-is thun-BER-jee-a at-ro-pur-PEWR-ree-a
Native to (or naturalized in) Oregon: 
  • Deciduous shrub, (similar to the species), 3-6 ft (0.9-1.8 m), very dense, rounded form, thorny, foliage is reddish or purplish in summer and red in fall.
  • Full sun needed to develop color.  Not fussy, but prefers acid or neutral soil.
  • Hardy to USDA Zone 4    Originated in France in about 1913. Vegetatively and seed propagated.
  • Many cultivars have been selected from this form (var. atropurpurea), including:
    • ‘Bagatelle’  -  dwarf, more compact and smaller leaves than ‘Crimson Pigmy’.
    • Cherry Bomb® (‘Monobm’)  -  color similar to ‘Crimson Pigmy’, but more open branching, slow growing to 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) tall and wide.
    • ‘Crimson Pigmy’  -  dwarf, reddish purple foliage, low growing, about 2 ft tall and 3 ft wide (0.6 × 0.9 m).
    • ‘Golden Ring’  -  reddish purple leaves with a yellow-green border around the margin, only noticeable when viewed close-up.
    • ‘Red Chief’  -  glossy purple leaves in late spring, become greenish purple when mature and a bright orange-purple in fall.
    • ‘Rose Glow’  -   new foliage is rose-pink, mottled with deeper red-purple splotches, matures to a deep reddish purple.
    • Royal Burgundy™  -  dwarf, rounded form, deep burgundy foliage becoming black-red in fall.
  • Name calling? A lack of taxonomic uniformity:
    • Some authorities classify the red/purple leafed group as a taxonomic subdivision of the species (Berberis thunbergii), specifically as a variety, varietas, (var.), hence as Berberis thunbergii var. atropurpurea   (atropurpurea = dark purple).

    • Other authorities us the term forma (f.), this term is used to recognize and describe sporadic variations in a species, in this case Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea.

    • A taxonomic authority (ITIS) lists the name Berberis thunbergii var. atropurpurea as “not accepted” and a synonym of the species, Berberis thunbergii.  In other words atropurpurea is not a taxonomic rank so that a red/purple leafed plant might be designated as a selection, hence Berberis thunbergii ‘Atropurpurea’.  This is how many nurseries name the red/purple leaved selections, e.g., B. t. ‘Atropurpurea, B. t. ‘Crimson Pigmy’, etc.
Click image to enlarge
  • several plants, spring flowering

    several plants, spring flowering

  • plant habit, spring

    plant habit, spring

  • leaves and flowers

    leaves and flowers

  • plant habit, summer

    plant habit, summer

  • leaves


  • leaves and thorns

    leaves and thorns

  • plant habit, fall

    plant habit, fall

  • branch, fall

    branch, fall