PSA — How you can get Lyme disease from a plant

From Kelly Stettner, Black River Action Team

Have you seen this plant?

JapaneseBarberry Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is pretty, there’s no doubt about that: interesting leaf pattern, lovely foliage, and bright red berries. Who would imagine this plant is a threat to anyone? Researchers in Connecticut have discovered that tick populations are exponentially higher where barberry is present, linking the plant directly to a spike in cases of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

japanese_barberry_closeHow does this happen? Barberry was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s as an attractive landscape feature; it’s still sold at nurseries and installed by landscapers at homes and businesses around the country. Garden clubs plant it in public greenspaces. However, birds and other animals eat the berries and deposit the seeds in the woods where the plant has grown to form dense thorny thickets. Some eight feet tall, the thickets are impenetrable fortresses ideal for mice to hide from predators – and mice are the primary host for ticks.

Learn more about the link as well as some management strategies for barberry on your property here.

Barberry is also one of many problem plants that can crowd out more beneficial trees, shrubs, flowers, and other vegetation, causing a reduction in the biodiversity of an area.

Got barberry? Don’t despair!

~ DO dig or use shears or loppers to cut small bushes from the ground, making sure to bag all berries so they do not re-seed.
~DO cut larger bushes and either treat the stump as directed in the article, watching for “suckers” to sprout from the stump over time.
~DO something with the freshly-disturbed soil where you removed the barberry. You can either push dirt back into the hole and spread fallen leaves over the site, or replant a beneficial native alternative: the evergreen holly commonly known as inkberry or gallberry (Ilex glabra); arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum); highbush cranberry(Viburnum trilobum); witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana); or elderberries (Sambucus spp.).
~ DO request that your local nursery and landscaper eliminate Japanese barberry from their stock.
~ DO scan for barberry, note its location, and let us know – the BRAT will reach out with information and management strategies, helping to make connections with resources.

The BRAT’s goal is to work with landowners to stop the spread of plants like barberry; anything we can do together to help leverage resources, share information, and keep people from feeling overwhelmed. Join the Plant Partnership; find out more ways you can help us help the Black River watershed!

Log onto or get in touch with BRAT Director Kelly Stettner at (802) 885-1533 or

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