Creeping Oregon-grape

Berberis repens

Species distinguishing characteristics: 

  • Evergreen, holly-like leaves
  • Small, short stalked, yellow flowers clustered on unbranched stem tips
  • Bluish-purple, sour berries
  • 6 petals, 6 stamens, and 6 sepals (3 are actually bracts)

Family Characteristics: 

  • Spiny, evergreen or deciduous leaves
  • Fruit is a berry
  • Flower parts in 3s
  • Bright yellow inner root bark

Growth habitat: 

Perennial, ground cover or low shrub with erect or trailing woody stems, 5–30 cm long. 

Leaves and stems: 

Thin, unbranched stems with alternate leaves composed of 5–7 (sometimes 3–9) paired leaflets.  Oval- to egg-shaped leaflets, 1–8 cm long, have wavy margins with small, spiny teeth; which gives the leaflets a holly-like appearance.  Leaflets are dull or glossy green on the top surface and dull, waxy-coated on the underside.  Evergreen leaflets often turn red or purple in winter. 

 

Flowers: 

Numerous yellow flowers on short stalks in dense clusters, 3–8 cm long, on stem tips.  Flowers have 6 pollen-producing stamens, 6 two-lobed petals, 3 large inner sepals, and 3 outer bract-like sepals below petals.  Bud scales in the flower cluster are less than 1 mm long and fall off soon after flowering.  Sweet, fruity aroma.

Roots: 

Rhizomes with bright yellow inner bark due to the presence of berberine, a bitter alkaloid.

Seeds: 

Edible but extremely sour, juicy, purplish-blue berries in grape-like clusters.  Berries have a waxy coating and contain few large seeds.  Berries sweeten somewhat after a frost or two.

Habitat preferences: 

Dry to moist, shady forests and brushy slopes.  Often abundant under mixed conifers in low to mid-elevations.

Interesting facts: 

One of our region’s most important medicinal herbs.  The root bark is used as an antiseptic/antibacterial, to treat PMS and kidney ailments, and to stimulate digestion and liver cleansing.  The Blackfoot people used the root bark as a yellow dye and as a treatment for dysentery.  The vitamin C rich berries are eaten by black bears (Ursus americanus) and make good jelly, jam, and wine when combined with an equal amount of sugar.  The pollen-producing stamens snap inward when touched to shake their pollen onto bees. 

Biological Classification: