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Holly-leaved Barberry Mahonia aquifolium

Previously known as:

  • Berberis aquifolium
Description

Oregon Grapeholly is an evergreen, medium shrub that grows up to 10' tall, and is upright and scarcely branching. This plant has a tiering habit and cane-like growth with tendency to sucker and form colonies. Drought tolerant, slow-growing, but prone to suckers and may form colonies. Best in light shade, as color will bleach out if grown in full sun, and dislikes summer heat. It does require a few hours of sun per day to flower. 

2-3 in. racemes of yellow flowers in early spring are mildly fragrant and showy, with an abundant amount of raisin-sized blue-black berries in summer that crown the branches with rows of waxy, bluish fruit that may persist through December. 

The leaves are glossy and shiny like a holly. They turn purplish-bronze in the winter. The fruits are dark blue/purple and form in clusters like grapes, but this shrub is neither a grape nor a holly.  This plant is the state flower of Oregon, hence its common name.  It is a member of the barberry family Berberidaceae. Some consider one of the best garden shrubs for eastern gardens, and is from the Lewis and Clark Expedition collection.  It is best planted in small groups in shade or woodland gardens. It also does well as a specimen or in foundation or shrub borders. It does not like highly alkaline soils and will become chlorotic in high pH soils and dessicating winds. This plant has known pest problems.

Insects, Diseases and Other Plant Problems: Leaf spots, rust, and leaf scorch from sun/wind.  Chlorosis on high pH soils; leaves can look burned but stems will regrow leaves next spring.

Quick ID Hints:

  • Odd pinnately compound, coriaceous leaves
  • Holly-like leaflets with up to 12 spines per side
  • Evergreen medium shrub with tiering habit
  • Terminal, bright yellow flowers in early spring
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Compactum'
    Reaches only 3'; bronze leaves in winter
  • 'King's Ransom'
    Hybrid, upright grower 5' blue-green foliage, bronze/purple in winter
  • 'Mayhan Strain'
    Dwarf, glossy leaves
  • 'Repens'
    Ground cover
  • 'Smaragd' or 'Emerald'
    4' tall, lustrous deep green leaves, bronze/purple in winter.
Tags:
#evergreen#yellow#birds#partial shade#drought tolerant#specimen#light shade#shrub#wildlife plant#yellow flowers#fall interest#year-round interest#fire#deer resistant#shrub border#foundation planting#edible fruits#pollinator plant#fantz#evergreen shrub
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Compactum'
    Reaches only 3'; bronze leaves in winter
  • 'King's Ransom'
    Hybrid, upright grower 5' blue-green foliage, bronze/purple in winter
  • 'Mayhan Strain'
    Dwarf, glossy leaves
  • 'Repens'
    Ground cover
  • 'Smaragd' or 'Emerald'
    4' tall, lustrous deep green leaves, bronze/purple in winter.
Tags:
#evergreen#yellow#birds#partial shade#drought tolerant#specimen#light shade#shrub#wildlife plant#yellow flowers#fall interest#year-round interest#fire#deer resistant#shrub border#foundation planting#edible fruits#pollinator plant#fantz#evergreen shrub
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Mahonia
    Species:
    aquifolium
    Family:
    Berberidaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Berries make jelly, wine or purple dye; inner bark, yellow dye
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Root Cutting
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    British Columbia south to OR; Pacific Northwest
    Distribution:
    Northern North America
    Wildlife Value:
    Birds are attracted to fruits.
    Edibility:
    Fruits are edible.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 3 ft. 0 in. - 10 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 2 ft. 0 in. - 5 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Shrub
    Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Erect
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Coarse
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Available Space To Plant:
    3 feet-6 feet
    Usda Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Black
    Blue
    Green
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Berry
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    Deep dusty blue/black edible globose berries in clusters give excellent fall interest. They are less than an inch in size.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Raceme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    Flowers are bright yellow and weakly foetid. They are 2.5" in size and are mildly fragrant. Inflorescence is in short, crowded terminal racemes.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Good Cut
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Type:
    Compound (Pinnately , Bipinnately, Palmately)
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Oblong
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Dentate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Leaves are alternate and odd pinnately compound. Leaflets (5-13) are sessile and coriaceous. Terminal leaflets are larger than laterals. Leaflets have spine-tipped teeth (up to 12 teeth per side), bases sometimes overlap, they are rigid and olive-green in color. Petiole encircles stem. New leaves red-tinted turn glossy dark green.
  • Bark:
    Bark Description:
    gray-brown color, not of ornamental importance
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gray/Silver
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Description:
    Stems are roundish, stout, and become gray-brown as they mature. They have an inner yellow bark with a thickened corky appearance. They are thick and branch infrequently.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Container
    Woodland
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Border
    Foundation Planting
    Hedge
    Mass Planting
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Pollinators
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Fire
    Heavy Shade