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An evergreen, straggling bush, with deeply grooved branches; said to grow 8 ft high in Chile, but is not usually more than half as high in cultivation. Leaves holly-like, from 1 to 2 in. long, dark glossy green, obovate, with a few spiny teeth towards the apex. Flowers 2⁄3 to 3⁄4 in. across, orange-yellow, densely crowded on short racemes. Bot. Mag., t. 4308.
First introduced to Kew from S. Chile by Sir Joseph Hooker, whilst he was attached to Sir John Ross’s Antarctic expedition, 1839-43, this striking barberry has always been one of the rarest in cultivation. It is probably better suited for the south-western maritime counties than inland ones. It was reintroduced about twenty years ago by Capt. Collingwood Ingram from Punta Arenas on the Straits of Magellan and received an Award of Merit when shown by him at Vincent Square in April 1962. The specimen bore flowers of brilliant orange-red between 1⁄2 and 3⁄4 in. across, four to seven together in a sub-umbellate inflorescence. The plant sometimes found in gardens under the label “B. ilicifolia” is really the bi-generic hybrid × Mahoberberis neubertii.
The following is an amplified description: an evergreen shrub up to 9 ft high in cultivation, of open habit; branches brown when mature, angled and finely grooved, finely downy when young; spines three-branched, up to 1⁄2 in. long, brown, often replaced by normal leaves. These and the spur-leaves are very thick and rigid, dark green and reticulate above, yellowish green beneath, with only the main veins visible there. They are obovate or obovate-elliptic, more rarely nearly elliptic, 11⁄4 in. to 2 in. long, 3⁄8 in. to 3⁄4 in. wide, spine-tipped and commonly with one spine on each side near the apex, occasionally with three or four on one or the other side, rarely entire; petiole indistinct. Flowers orange, up to 3⁄4 in. wide, borne in very condensed umbel-like racemes, showing colour early in February in some seasons, opening in the second half of March or early April. An unusual feature of this species is that a second crop of flowers is often produced in July and August on the current season’s growths; these are normally sterile and are borne on well-developed racemes up to 3 in. long, including peduncle. The plant is self-fertile and produces large crops of pruinose blue fruits about 3⁄8 in. wide, with a stout style 1⁄8 in. long. Bot. Mag., t.4308.
To the second paragraph it should be added that a plant growing against a west-facing house-wall in Sussex, from seed gathered at Punta Arenas, Chile, in 1963, is 9 ft high (1985). Neither the plant itself nor the flowers have ever been damaged by frost. Despite its rather gaunt habit, B. ilicifolia is one of the finest of the hardy evergreen barberries, valuable for its early flower.