Fremont’s Barberry

Alloberberis fremontii (Torr.) C.C.Yu & K.F.Chung

Eukaryota > Viridiplantae > Streptophyta > Streptophytina > Embryophyta > Tracheophyta > Euphyllophyta > Spermatophyta > Magnoliopsida > Mesangiospermae > Ranunculales > Berberidaceae > Berberidoideae > Berberideae > Alloberberis > Alloberberis fremontii [1]

IImage of A. fremontii including leaves and flowers. Photo by Stan Shebs. [17]

Image of A. fremontii including leaves and flowers. Photo by Stan Shebs. [17]

Summary Description

Shrub with dimorphic, spreading branches 15-30 dm tall. Leaves compound with 3-9 leaflets, 3-11 cm long; leaflets glaucous on both sides 1-3 cm x 0.6-3 cm, margins with 5-7 broad triangular spine-tipped lobes or teeth. Inflorescences raceme or umbel, 3-9 flowers per inflorescence, peduncle 1-4 cm long. Pedicels 4-28 mm long. Flowers with bractlets (outer sepals) 3.5-4.5 mm long with the inner sepals 5-8 mm long and yellow; petals broadly rounded. Fruit berry, reddish or purplish, hollow, and often open apically; pericarp is juicy and tart, 12-20 mm long [2].

Habit of Alloberberis fremontii. Photo by Max Licher taken in Sedona, AZ. [15]

Habit of Alloberberis fremontii. Photo by Max Licher taken in Sedona, AZ. [15]

Identification Tips

Recent taxonomic revision suggests that Alloberberis is delineated from Berberis, a genus which also has dimorphic stems, by its spineless stems and 3-9-foliolate leaves whereas Berberis is unifoliolate and usually has spiny stems. Further, Alloberberisis identified from Mahonia (which has monomorphic stems) by its red to brownish fruits and small (<6 cm) leaflets whereas Mahonia has black or blue fruits with leaflets larger (>6 cm) [3]. Alloberberis fremontii is similarly distinguished from A. haematocarpa (Wooton) C.C.Yu & K.F.Chung and A. higginsiae (Munz) C.C.Yu & K.F.Chung by its large dry, inflated fruit whereas the latter species have small, fleshy berries. [4].

Taxonomic History

The genera Mahonia and Berberis have a tangled taxonomic history, with botanists variously recognizing Mahonia as a subgenus of Berberis or its own genus and therefore what is now Alloberberis fremontii within one entity or the other. Recent phylogenetic work [3] put this battle to rest when their data suggested a separate lineage for Alloberberis, with these genera delineated as mentioned above. Alloberberis is latin meaning other Berberis in reference to the taxonomic complexity discussed above.

Image of A. fremontii including leaves, flowers, and stem. Photo by Stan Shebs [16]

Image of A. fremontii including leaves, flowers, and stem. Photo by Stan Shebs [16]

Economic/Ethnobotanical Uses

In its protologue, Torrey describes the plant as a handsome shrub [5]. It has horticultural potential, especially for desert environments. A number of Native American tribes used it for various purposes, including the Apache during ceremonies [6], the Hopi as a medicine to treat issues of the gums [7], the Hualapai to treat gastrointestinal, digestive, and liver issues [8], and with the Havasupai, Hualapai, Walapai, and Navajo using the roots and bark to make a yellow dye for coloring baskets and leather goods [8-10], and the Havasupai and Yavapai eating the raw berries for food [8, 11].

Native Range

Distribution map of A. fremontii at a county level [12].

Distribution map of A. fremontiiat a county level [12].

Conservation Status

Alloberberis fremontii was last assessed for NatureServe 25 March 2014 and is considered secure [14]. It has not been assessed for the IUCN Red List.

Plant ecology/habitat

Alloberberis fremontii occurs all across the southern counties of Utah, at 820-2380 m, in Mojave Desert shrub, Colorado Plateau shrub, salt desert shrub, pinyon-juniper, and mountain rush communities [13].

Additional Resources


[1] "Taxonomy Browser (Alloberberis fremontii)." National Center for Biotechnology Information, 258163.

[2] Welsh, S. L. 2003. A Utah flora. 3rd ed., Brigham Young University Press. ISBN 0-8425-2556-4

[3] Yu, C.C. and Chung, K.F., 2017. Why Mahonia? Molecular recircumscription of Berberis sl, with the description of two new genera, Alloberberis and Moranothamnus. Taxon, 66(6), pp.1371-1392.

[4] Whittemore, Alan T. 1993. Berberis. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico [Online]. 22+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 3. Accessed 8 Dec 2022.

[5] United States Dept of the Interior. 1859. “Report on the United States and Mexican boundary survey :made under the direction of the secretary of the Interior.” C. Wendell, Printer. Washington. pg. 31.

[6] Reagan, Albert B.. 1929. Plants Used by the White Mountain Apache Indians of Arizona. Wisconsin Archeologist 8:143-61., pg. 155.

[7] Whiting, Alfred F.. 1939. Ethnobotany of the Hopi. Museum of Northern Arizona Bulletin #15, page 33, 76.

[8] Watahomigie, Lucille J.. 1982. Hualapai Ethnobotany, Peach Springs, AZ. Hualapai Bilingual Program, Peach Springs School District #8, page 5.

[9] Weber, Steven A. & P. David Seaman. 1985. Havasupai Habitat: A. F. Whiting's Ethnography of a Traditional Indian Culture, Tucson. The University of Arizona Press, page 219.

[10] Elmore, Francis H. 1944. Ethnobotany of the Navajo. Sante Fe, NM. School of American Research, page 48.

[11] Gifford, E. W. 1936. Northeastern and Western Yavapai. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 34:247-345, page 257.

[12] USDA NRCS National Plant Data Team. "Mahonia fremontii (Torr.) Fedde Plant Profile." USDA Plants Database,

[13] Buren, R. V., Cooper, J. G., Shultz, L. M., & Harper, K. T. (2011). Woody Plants of Utah. Utah State University Press.

[14] "Mahonia fremontii, Fremont’s Mahonia." NatureServe Explorer 2.0,

[15] Photo by Max Licher.

[16] Photo by Stan Shebs

[17] Photo by Stan Shebs.

[18] Photo by Anthony Mendoza.

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