Detecting hybrid barberry and investigating its role in rust epidemiology

researcher stands next to a hybrid barberry plant in a grassy field

Pablo D. Olivera Firpo, PhD, with a barberry plant at Afton State Park, MN. Image credit: Jyoti Sharma.


Common barberry and Japanese barberry are both terrestrial invasive species that have spread throughout the United States including Minnesota. These species also readily hybridize, resulting in Berberis × ottawensis, another species which can host cereal rust diseases that threaten wheat and small grain production.

Researchers know that this hybrid is present in Minnesota, but accurate identification is difficult, and a definitive survey has never been conducted. Doing so is important to assess the threat it poses to both agricultural systems and forest health. 

Research questions

  • Where is B. × ottawensis present in Minnesota? 
  • How can B. × ottawensis be identified?
  • How susceptible are hybrids to stem rust, and what threat do they pose to Minnesota’s small grain producers? 


Principal investigator Firpo and team developed a protocol to accurately detect the parental and hybrid alleles enabling accurate identification of hybrid barberry. It can be adopted by any standard laboratory.

Using the identification protocol, the researchers confirmed the presence of hybrid barberries in Minnesota. Over the span of two years, they collected plant samples of hybrid barberry with rust and found necrotic spots on some samples, infected by Puccinia striiformis f. sp. poae (stripe rust of Kentucky bluegrass). This suggests hybrid barberries may be susceptible to stem rust.


News and media

Research team

Pablo D. Olivera Firpo | principal investigator

Yue Jin | co-principal investigator

Jyoti Saini Sharma | post-doctoral associate

Nicholas Greatens | MS candidate

Les Szabo | researcher


Collaborating organizations

USDA-ARS Cereal Disease Lab

Minnesota Department of Agriculture

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

University of New Hampshire

Framingham State University

1854 Treaty Authority

Osprey Wilds, Environmental Learning Center

Kickapoo Valley Reserve