Family: Berberidaceae

There are 70 species in this genus of evergreen shrubs with handsome foliage, clusters of fragrant, yellow flowers and dark blueish black fruit which generally has a whitish or blue-gray bloom. The fruit can be made into a delicious jelly. Many of these plants make good hedges and windbreaks, while some species are excellent groundcovers.


M. aquifolium, holly mahonia, holly barberry or Oregon grape, zone 5, from western North America, is a dense, bushy shrub which grows to around 1 m (3 ft) high. The oval-shaped leaves are divided into pairs of glossy, deep green leaflets, which take on a purple tone during the cooler months. The tight clusters of small yellow flowers appear in spring and are followed by attractive, globular fruits.

M. japonica zone 7 is an upright, spreading shrub, to about 2 m (6 ft), with narrow, spiny, deep green leaflets and long, loose, drooping sprays of fragrant flowers in winter. M. japonica Bealei Group grows to 2 m (6 ft), with pinnate leaves divided into pairs of dull, grayish green leaflets, coloured yellowish green on the undersides, with spiny margins. The yellow flowers are borne in upright sprays in winter.

M. lomariifolia, zone 8, from central and western China, is somewhat taller than most species, growing 3-5 m (10-16 ft) high. The leaves of this showy shrub are divided into many narrow, rigid, dark green leaflets. Tight clusters of deep yellow blooms appear during late autumn and winter.

M. repens, zone 5, from the west of the United States, has a creeping habit, growing no taller than 30 cm (12 in). It has spiny leaflets and clusters of small, fragrant, yellow flowers in spring. The cultivar 'Rotundifolia' has rounded leaflets with few serrations and is much taller than the species, growing to 1.5 m (4 ft).


Mahonia needs a well-drained soil and a sunny position. M. aquifolium is the easiest to cultivate and suits most soils. Propagate from seed sown in autumn, from suckers detached from the parent plant in spring or autumn, or from half-ripe cuttings struck in sandy peat in late summer or autumn.


Zone 6, unless otherwise indicated below.

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Magnolia      Malcolmia