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Mahonia aquifolium
Mahonia aquifolium

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Zones 2-12, 14-24, 31-41
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Full, Partial, Shade
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Moderate, Minimal

Mahonia aquifolium

Tall Oregon Grape
Berberidaceae
Evergreen, Shrubs

MAHONIA

Related to barberry (Berberis) and described under that name by some botanists. Easy to grow; good looking all year. Typically spiny-edged leaves are divided into leaflets; foliage can be quite prickly, so avoid setting mahonias too close to walkways or in other areas where they might snag passersby.

Yellow flowers are borne in dense, rounded to spike-like clusters and followed by berrylike, typically blue or blue-black (sometimes red or brown) fruit with a powdery bloom. Generally disease resistant, though foliage is sometimes disfigured by a small looper caterpillar. Fruit of all mahonias attracts birds. In general, pruning is needed only to remove old, damaged stems or to correct rank growth; cut those stems all the way to the ground.

Mahonia aquifolium

Native from British Columbia to Northern California, mostly west of the Cascades. State flower of Oregon. Dense, bushy plant grows erect to 6 ft. high, spreading by underground stems to 5 ft. wide. Leaves are typically glossy green, 6–2 in. long, with five to nine leaflets that resemble holly leaves. Ruddy or bronze new growth; scattered mature red leaves throughout the year (more pronounced in fall and winter). Leaves turn purplish or bronze in winter, especially in cold-winter areas or where plants are grown in full sun. Early spring flowers appear in 2–3-in. clusters along stems. Edible blue-black fruit with gray bloom makes good jelly. ‘Orange Flame’ grows to 2 ft. high and 3 ft. wide; has bronzy new growth, glossy green mature leaves that turn wine red in winter.

Mass as a foundation planting or as a low screen or garden barrier plant in woodlands or in tubs. Control height and form by pruning; if any woody stems jut out too far, cut them down to the ground (new growth fills in quickly). Can be sheared as a formal hedge. Resistant to oak root fungus. Give wind protection in cold-winter areas. Can take any exposure but performs best with shade in hottest climates (northern exposure is recommended in the desert). Little to regular water.

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