The genus Barberry has dimorphic shoots: long shoots which form the structure of the plant, and short shoots only 1–2 mm (0.039–0.079 in) long. The leaves on long shoots are non-photosynthetic, developed into one to three or more spines :96 3–30 mm (0.12–1.18 in) long.
The bud in the axil of each thorn-leaf then develops a short shoot with several normal, photosynthetic leaves. These leaves are 1–10 cm (0.39–3.94 in) long, simple, and either entire, or with spiny margins. Only on young seedlings do leaves develop on the long shoots, with the adult foliage style developing after the young plant is 1–2 years old.