Darwin’s Barberry (Berberis darwinii), a South American ornamental shrub haunting the edges of Dandenong forests.
Available from Melbourne suppliers at least as early as 1857 and presumably before that, this has long been a favoured early spring specimen shrub, setting fire to understoreys otherwise lush with winter rains. Towards summer and autumn, the green juvenile fruit seen here matures into heaving bunches of dusky blue berries.
‘One of the most elegant of the flowering shrubs,’ according to a Victorian columnist in the Melbourne Leader, ‘its bright yellow blossoms afford so fine a contrast to the shining foliage that none who have seen it in perfection can refrain from planting it.’
In the 1940s, this Barberry was said to be a common planting in the Dandenongs and at other popular hill station areas, where both individual plants and hedges of the species gave good results, flowering ‘more profusely’ there than in the Melbourne suburbs.
In New Zealand, the species has been a common problem in damp forests since the 1940s. In Victoria, the first collections from the Dandenongs were made in 1977 at Sherbrooke Forest; today scattered infestations and incipient plants along disturbed tracks and edges can be found across much of the ranges. A separate cluster has predictably been recorded around Macedon since 2010, and the plant has also become established in similar damp forest sites close to development across Tasmania.