Mahonia aquifoliumOregon Grape, Holly Grape

Family: Berberidaceae

Origin: Western N America, from California to British Columbia

Mahonias are a handsome group of shrubs from the barberry family, with large leaves composed of at least three, to many, holly-like leaflets; they bear flowers in bunches of spikes with many small yellow flowers, often sweetly scented.

M. aquifolium is a relatively small member of the group, growing up to 2 m tall, branching occasionally, but suckering freely.

The leaves are up to 8 cm long x 4 cm wide, with up to 15 leaflets which are spiny-toothed, and a glossy, dark green, turning reddish-purple in winter. The flowers are golden-yellow, borne on groups of 3 or 4 densely-flowered spikes up to 8 cm long, followed by glaucous-blue berries.

There are a number of cultivars of M. aquifolium, and it has hybridised with M. pinnata (M. x wagneri) producing several more.

The lower photograph shows it naturalised on a cliff face beside Fountains Abbey, in north Yorkshire; in the same county, it is also naturalised on the walls of Bolton Abbey. Outside gardens, it is perhaps more commonly seen self-seeded in woodland.

Introduced in 1823.

Named after Bernard McMahon, an American horticulturist from Philadelphia, author of The American Gardener's Calendar (1807)

The berries are edible, and can be used for alcoholic beverages; the woody stems and roots may be used for medicinal purposes; the plant has been used as a fodder plant in its native country. It is now recently associated with the treatment of psoriasis.

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