For almost 40 years we’ve been denied the use of the beautiful barberry shrubs!

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1pt.gif (86 bytes)“The Barberry situation in Canada and particularly the ban on its inter-provincial movement seems to be one of the most talked about subjects among nurserymen these days.” That’s the first sentence from an article I wrote on the topic of banning deciduous barberries in Canada, a way back in June of 1966!
1pt.gif (86 bytes)It was a memo from the then Plant Protection Division of the Canada Department of Agriculture, dated February 16, 1966 (yes, 34 years ago!), that was the beginning of the ban. At that time too, Plant Protection warned: “We now intend not only to check inter-provincial movement of all deciduous varieties of barberry but also to require removal and destruction of . . .” all ornamental and landscape plantings of certain varieties including the then very popular ‘Sheridan Red’.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)So popular were the cultivars of Japanese barberry when the ban was imposed (though announced in 1966, nurseries were allowed to continue to sell existing stocks until early in the 70s) they were the number one selling deciduous shrubs at the time. And since then none has been allowed to be sold or propagated in Canada ostensibly because, for example to quote the February 16/66 memo: “Stem rusts are in a highly mutant state of evolution and it is logical to assume that a rust race might develop in Canada which could attack B. thunbergii.” The emphasis on “might” was mine then and is now.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)In the U.S. no such ban was ever imposed by their highly protective agricultural community generally, or the wheat and grain industry stakeholders specifically, Even in 1966 I wrote “The Plant Protection Division in Ottawa admits it has not requested the ban on barberry. Rather it seems, consistently strong pressure from Cereal growers has lead the division to this course of action. It would seem about time that Canadian Horticulturists banded together to make themselves heard in defence of ornamental plants and their value to our landscape.”
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Ever since the imposition of the ban, the Canadian Nursery Trades Association has fought to have it revoked on a number of grounds. Only in the last decade since Chris Andrews, the association’s executive director, has actively led a campaign to sit down with the stakeholders, have we gradually reached the present position, where it would appear that in the foreseeable future it will once again be lawful to propagate and sell certain varieties of B. thunbergii. It must be emphasized, however, only “certain varieties” will be allowed. None of the old ones sold in Canada that were so popular, such as ‘Crimson Pygmy’ and ‘Sheridan Red’ will be allowed to be propagated or sold. What will be allowed are certain new cultivars approved by various agencies in the U.S. But that is exciting news! These are significant new cultivars, including B. thunbergii ‘Monry’ (Sunsation™ Japanese barberry) illustrated here. This plant is a compact grower of bright golden foliage in spring and an orange cast most of the season. Obviously it makes an excellent foliage contrast with nearly all other shrubs. It is a slow grower that prefers full sun locations, and spreads to 90-120 cm tall and up to 120 cm wide.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Other new cultivars that will gradually become available to us are: B.t. ‘Monlers’ Golden Nugget™, similar to the foregoing but not exceeding 30 cm tall and 45 cm wide; B.t. ‘Rose Glow’ which has a deep rose-red glow over mottled white and green foliage in spring, a slow grower to 1.5 m; B.t. ‘Monomb; and Cherry Bomb®, that has deep crimson-coloured foliage all season and grows to a height of about 1 m. All of the foregoing, initially at least, will come from the Monrovia company in Oregon. There will be other equally interesting cultivars from other U.S. wholesalers (including Bailey Nursery in Minnesota and Spring Meadow Nursery in Michigan).
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Now don’t be rushing out to your favourite garden centre this spring, seeking these plants! Chris Andrews tells me that a bill must yet be passed by the House of Commons (although some think the Minister can sign the necessary order), and Chris has been told that all the necessary paper work etc. will be in place by July 31. Chris makes no guarantee on this--with our House, who would? Then, nurseries will be able to begin importing these new plants in varying sizes. But, there is still an additional hurdle. Once the approvals are in place, and nurseries do import the approved plants, there is still a three-month waiting period before any can be sold at retail. That means the earliest these new plants would be available in Canada is early November this year.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Having written that, I am aware that there are some smaller plant nurseries selling some of these newer plants even now. This is strictly illegal, but it is happening!

Art C. Drysdale
6 Nesbitt Drive
Toronto, ON M4W 2G3
Phone: 416-968-5910