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Mahonia aquifolium (Holly-leaved barberry)
Makin, Julie

Mahonia aquifolium

Mahonia aquifolium (Pursh) Nutt.

Holly-leaved Barberry, Holly-leaf Oregon-grape

Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Synonym(s): Berberis aquifolium, Berberis aquifolium var. aquifolium, Berberis piperiana, Mahonia piperiana, Odostemon aquifolium

USDA Symbol: MAAQ2

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

Holly-leaf Oregon-grape is a 3-6 ft., or taller, mound-shaped, broadleaf evergreen shrub with pinnately compound, glossy, leathery leaves. The 5-9 dark-green leaflets are armed with spiny teeth and turn reddish in fall. Terminal clusters of bright-yellow, bell-shaped flowers are followed by clusters of tiny blue, grape-like fruits. The bronzy copper color or the new growth in spring is an added bonus.

This stout shrub is the state flower of Oregon. The berries of this and other Oregon-grape species are eaten by wildlife and make good jelly. Native Americans made a yellow dye from the bark and wood of this shrubby species. Several are used as ornamental garden plants; in the nursery trade some of them are known by the common name Mahonia. Outside of this species' native range, it is widely used as an ornamental, but often escapes from cultivation and has become invasive in some areas.


From the Image Gallery

24 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Shrub
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Breeding System: Flowers Bisexual
Fruit Type: Berry
Size Notes: Up to about 15 feet tall, often shorter.
Leaf: Green.
Fruit: Blue.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Yellow
Bloom Time: Feb , Mar , Apr , May


USA: CA , ID , MT , OR , WA
Canada: BC
Native Distribution: B.C. to ID & n.w. MT, s. to n. CA
Native Habitat: Deep, conifer forests; open, rocky woods

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Drought Tolerance: High
Soil Description: Moist, well-drained, acid loams.
Conditions Comments: Protect this plant from drying winter winds. Leaf scorch can be severe. Barberry aphids, scale and whiteflies can be a problem.


Use Ornamental: Widely used as an ornamental and has been reported as an escape from cultivation across the continent.
Use Wildlife: Berries are relished by a variety of wildlife.
Use Medicinal: Medicinally, various root preparations of Berberis aquifolium were used by Native Americans for stomach trouble, hemorrhages, and tuberculosis; as a panacea, a tonic, a gargle, and an eye wash; and to purify blood. Leaves and roots were used in steam baths to treat yellow fever; karok was used as a poison; and the tips of stems were used to treat stomach aches (D. E. Moermann 1986).
Conspicuous Flowers: yes

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Native Bees

This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.


Description: Can be grown from seed. Cuttings should be taken in November or after some exposure to cold. Treat with hormone. Simple division of the parent is effective if only a few plants are needed.
Seed Collection: Ripe fruits may be pick by hand, using heavy gloves, or flailed onto cloth beneath the bushes. Seeds can be removed through maceration and flotation. Seeds should not be allowed to dry out after collection.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Evergreen plants safe for horses in Louisville, Kentucky
May 16, 2010
I have a horse farm in Louisville, Ky. I want to plant evergreen plants along the walls in front of the horse barns. What types of plants are not toxic to horses can I use? Thank you so much for all y...
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Plant identfication
October 21, 2009
Hi...Can you please identfy the tall, evergreen shrub with purple plum-colored foliage that I have noticed in winter locally?...Hope so, need he color! THX
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Evergreen shrubs for Michigan
June 17, 2008
I'm seeking a small-medium, ornamental, fairly compact, evergreen shrub to complement my front yard woodland wildflower garden. I want a shrub that will flank both sides of my front porch steps. I wa...
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Evergreen screening shrubs for New York
May 27, 2008
I need evergreen screening shrubs that aren't too deep. The shrubs are to be planted along an existing wrought iron fence, which is a few feet behind a children's swing set.
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Advice on planting Korean dogwood (Cornus kousa) in Vancouver, BC
October 26, 2007
I live in the Vancouver, BC - Pacific Northwest area and the front of our yard faces south to southwest. If I were to plant a tree other than an evergreen, would the Korean Dogwood thrive in this are...
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National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden - Santa Barbara, CA
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR

Web Reference

Webref 30 - Calflora (2018) Calflora
Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

Additional resources

USDA: Find Mahonia aquifolium in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Mahonia aquifolium in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Mahonia aquifolium


Record Modified: 2023-04-19
Research By: TWC Staff

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