Berberis bealei Fortune

Family: Berberidaceae

Genus: Berberis


Published in Gardener's Chronicle 212 in 1850. Basionym of Mahonia bealei (Fortune) Carrière. This is an excerpt from the Gardener's Chronicle, where Fortune describes his discovery of the plant:

My Chinese coolie and myself were busy collecting Tea seeds on a small hill, not far from the town of Tun-che... I accidentally caught a glimpse of a very fine specimen of the Funereal Cypress... I was so charmed with this new tree that I determined on going to the spot where it was growing... As we approached the village we discovered that the tree was inside a garden, which was surrounded by a high wall... we came to a little cottage, which seemed to serve the purposes of a lodge. We passed in here with all the coolness of Chinamen... and soon found ourselves in the middle of a dilapidated old garden. A large house which had been the mansion in former days was, like the garden, in a ruinous condition... Having taken a survey of the place, we were on our way out when an extraordinary plant, growing in a secluded corner, met my eye. When I got near to it I found that it was a very fine evergreen Berberis, belonging to the section of Mahonias, and having, of course, pinnated leaves. Each leaflet was nearly as large as the leaf of an English Holly, spiny, and of a fine, dark, shining green colour. The shrub was about 8 feet high, much branched, and far surpassed in beauty all the known species of Mahonia. It had but one fault - it was too large to move and bring away. I secured a leaf, however, and marked the spot where the plant grew, in order to get some cuttings of it when I was ready to leave that part of the country.

Travelling onward until I reached the far famed Sung-lo mountain... I took up my quarters in a farm-house... Amidst other avocations I did not lose sight of my beautiful shrub, which I was most anxious to possess, and, if possible, introduce to Europe. I had frequently desired my servants to procure some young plants from the neighboring gardens, as I could not believe the species so rare as only to be found in the old garden where I had first met with it. However, they either could not find it, or, what was more probable, they gave themselves no trouble about the matter. Knowing the potent influence of dollars... and showing them the leaf which I had preserved, promised a dollar to any one of them who would bring me a small plant of the same thing. One of them immediately went out, and to my surprise and pleasure returned in less than five minutes with a fresh leaf of the plant in question. "That will do," said I, "that is just the thing I want; bring me a young plant with good roots, and I shall give you the promised reward." They now held a consultation amongst themselves in a low tone, and at last said, the plant had some peculiar medical virtues, and that the possessor would not part with it. "Sell me this one," I replied, "and you will be able to buy a dozen with the money." "No," one of them replied; "my uncle, in whose garden it grows, does not want money, he is rich enough, but he requires a little of the plant now and then when he is unwell, and therefore he will not part with it." This was very provoking... there was nothing for it but "going upon another tack," as sailors say... "Well, at all events," said I, "let me see the plant..." They... were induced to consent at last, and led the way down to a small cottage garden, nearly overgrown with weeds. Here the beautiful shrub was growing, apparently neglected, and left to "bloom unseen." I tried hard to induce the uncle to part with it, but could not succeed. It might be that he really valued its medical properties, or, what was just as likely, he perhaps supposed I might be induced to offer some extravagant sum. He told me it had produced most marvellous effects upon patients who had received blows or concussions of a serious nature, and that it was also useful in cases of rheumatism. The roots are cut into small pieces and boiled, and the decoction is taken inwardly. If the eyes are weak, or have been injured by a blow, they are rubbed with a decoction made from the leaves.

On the following day another relation... came to me in a secret manner, and informed me that he knew where the same species was to be procured... In the course of the day he returned with several good plants, which he sold to me, and which I afterwards succeeded in getting down in good order to Shanghae, to Mr. Beale's garden.

Sir Wm. Hooker informs me that this may be the plant which Thunberg calls Ilex japonica... but the description is now before me and does not agree with my plant in several important matters. I have therefore named this species Berberis Bealei... in compliment toward my friend Mr. Beale of Shanghae in whose garden many of my finest plants have been preserved.

Sources of Information

© 2010-12 Lisa J. Miner