Native to the Pacific Northwest, this handsome evergreen shrub can also be grown in many other regions. Its growth habit varies from upright to spreading, and the plant slowly forms a small colony from stoloniferous roots. Oregon grapeholly bears long compound leaves; the glossy, dark green, spine-tipped leaflets look very similar to the leaves of English holly. It blooms in early spring, bearing showy 2- to 3-inch-long clusters of small bright yellow flowers. These are followed by clusters of edible, grapelike fruit that turn from green to a striking glaucous blue and eventually to black. In winter, the foliage often takes on bronze, plum, or red tones.
Common name: Oregon grapeholly
Botanical name: Mahonia aquifolium
Plant type: evergreen shrub
Zones: 5 to 9
Height: 3 to 6 feet
• Sun: Partial shade
• Soil: Acidic, with good amounts of organic matter
• Moisture: Evenly moist but well-drained
• Mulch: 1 to 2 inches of pine needles, wood chips, or other organic mulch
• Pruning: Occasional light pruning to remove damaged stems and shape plant
• Fertilizer: Topdress annually with compost
• Seeds, cuttings, or division of offshoots
Pests and diseases
• Few pest or disease problems
• Susceptible to winter burn of foliage in windy, exposed sites
• Leaves may become chlorotic in soils that are too alkaline (high pH)
• ‘Compactum’ grows just 2 to 3 feet tall.
• ‘Orange Flame’ has pretty orange-bronze new foliage.
• Combine Oregon grapeholly with broadleaf evergreen rhododendrons and deciduous azaleas in lightly shaded areas under high-canopied trees.
• When the fruits fully ripen in fall, they can be used to make jam or sauce (but you’ll have to compete with birds and other wildlife for the harvest).
• Oregon grapeholly is the state flower of Oregon.
All in the family
• Oregon grapeholly is a member of the barberry family (Berberidaceae). Nearly 80 percent of the species in this family are barberries (Berberis).
• Herbaceous plants in the barberry family include mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), epimediums (Epimedium spp.), and twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla).
Where to buy
• Cold Stream Farm, Free Soil, MI, 231-464-5809, www.coldstreamfarm.net
• Forestfarm, Williams, OR, 541-846-7269, www.forestfarm.com
(Photo courtesy of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden)