Friday, May 6, 2022

So many mahonia! A look at my collection...

Recently I began toying with the idea of a post detailing my surprisingly large mahonia collection—surprising because I wouldn't say this is a genus I am particularly enamored with, yet I've managed to accumulate 23 plants representing 13 different species or cultivars...

By far the largest plant in my collection is Mahonia x media 'Charity', even after I've chopped off a considerable number of branches due to them flopping after a heavy snow or ice load. 

'Charity' grows on the north side of our house, bordering our neighbor's driveway. I may have been more patient and held off on the chopping if it was my car the plant was flopped on, but I can't expect that from them.

The flowers and following fruit are very popular with the neighborhood birds.

Flowers—I suppose it's worth pointing out I'm intentionally not including photos of the flowers in this post. The foliage of many mahonia—especially the colorful spring growth—is so much more interesting than the small yellow flowers typical of this genus. At least to me...

The blooms are however great for feeding the wildlife especially during times when there isn't much else happening in the garden.

This sickly specimen is Mahonia fortunei ‘Dan Hinkley’. Last year I gave it a hard prune to get rid of the less than attractive foliage bits, but it's looking pretty sad yet again and it's probably time to get the shovel and really prune that baby right on out of here.

Nearby however is a tiny cutting I rooted, and seems to be doing pretty well—no spots—so perhaps the plant will live on after all.

Next up, Mahonia nervosa—aka dwarf Oregon grape, Cascade mahonia, or dull Oregon grape—is native from British Columbia to California and east into Idaho.

The name nervosa means conspicuously veined, but I love this one because it takes on a vibrant purple tone in the cooler months.

I have a pair of Mahonia gracilipes, but this is by far the largest and most impressive.

Here's a slightly earlier photo of the new growth, when it was extra vibrant.

The underside of the leaves are stark white, one leaf is turned here displaying that coloration.

I used to have a pair of Mahonia confusa 'Narihira' (plants Monrovia gave me to trial), but one of them looked so horrid after winter 2020/21 that I dug it out. This one was only slightly better then, but it has grown out of the uglies and is looking quite fetching now.

The big leaves at the bottom of the above photo belong to rodgersia, I do love me some rodgersia.

Mahonia eurybracteata 'Soft Caress', or as Andrew calls it the "palm mahonia" is one of those plants you can work in just about anywhere.

As proof I now have five and would have more if they weren't so hard to find and a little on the expensive side.

Here's another Mahonia fortunei, this one is 'Curlyque' and it doesn't have the gunky spots that ‘Dan Hinkley’ has. Well, unless I have that backward and this is actually Dan. Hmm, I've confused myself.

Moving on, here's my oldest, largest—and if I do say so myself quite impressive Mahonia eurybracteata 'Soft Caress'. It's embracing Mahonia eurybracteata 'Indianola Silver'.

A better focus on Mahonia eurybracteata 'Indianola Silver'...

The new growth is pretty spectacular.

There are actually two Mahonia eurybracteata 'Cistus Silvers' in this photo. The largest isn't yet planted, the pot is just sitting there. Last year's plant is tiny—up and to the right, I'm still waiting for that one to push out new growth.

This little darling came from my Miller Garden visit last fall. Richie Steffan gave me two Mahonia x sevillana—a hybrid between M. eurybracteata and M. gracilipes. This one favors its eurybracteata parent whereas the other (which I didn't take a photo of) favors the gracilipes side. It's going to be fun to watch them develop.

Speaking of Mahonia gracilipes, that's not what this is. This bright green number is Mahonia gracilis and I own it only because I wasn't paying attention. 

Prior to a Cistus nursery visit, I was looking through their catalog offerings and thought I was asking for a Mahonia gracilipes, instead it was Mahonia gracilis. Oh well, I'm always up for learning about a new plant.

This oddly formed beauty is Mahonia x media 'Marvel' one of three I have, it's a Sunset Garden Collection plant...

This version of "x media" is softer than 'Charity', but just as floriferous and thus rich with berries.

The new growth is absolutely spectacular.

The last mahonia in my collection is Mahonia lomariifolia ssp. tenuifolia. I fell hard for this plant when I saw it in Sean Hogan's garden.

New growth...

Here it is a little further along and still holding that red coloration. 

So that's it for my mahonia. I wish these photos were of each plant at its best, instead I just snapped phone photos as I was working int he garden one day, so some of the light conditions are not good. Oh well, if I'd have waited to get a great shot of each I never would have gotten around to writing this post—we make compromises. So, tell me about your mahonia...

All material © 2009-2022 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. AnonymousMay 06, 2022

    I only have one mahonia--Mahonia 'soft caress'. I was desperately looking for a plant that would live in a certain shady spot. I listened to a podcast from Texas Agri-Life about shade plants and in that podcast discovered 'soft caress'. I planted it in fall of 2020 and in the early spring of 2021, we experienced the Snow-pocalypse where temps went down to -6. I thought my mahonia was toast. I was also upset that I lost a plant I paid so much for. However, it came back. It is still scrawny and small, but alive. I'm babying it now. What a lovely & large collection you have.--I'm experiencing mahonia-envy!

    1. I'm so glad to learn your plant came back, that's a serious test of hardiness!

  2. 23 plants and 13 varieties certainly constitutes a bonafide collection! I've got just 2 plants, a 'Charity' and a 'Soft Caress'. The latter didn't do much this winter but then I planted it in late October 2021. What surprised me is that 'Charity', which has been in place over 5 years, also didn't bloom this year, although the plant looks fine. Hopefully, that was the result of poorly timed (late) pruning.

    1. Or maybe it needs cooler temperatures than you get to trigger bloom? I have absolutely no idea, but since it blooms in the cooler months here...

  3. It's interesting to see that most of the newer varieties are a lot smaller than the older ones. Maybe they will grow to be big beasts as they age though, ha ha!

    I have a few of them.

    A Mahonia savilliana - I have shared a couple photos of mine with you. It went through this winter no bother, not surprising really as it was quite benign.

    I also have a soft caress and gracillipes. The soft caress is in a pot and was doing pretty well until the previous winter when we went down to -14C and it lost a couple of growing points. I wonder how it would respond to a real hard prune? My gracillipes is doing okayish. It has been in the ground for 8 years or so now and seen some nasty weather, but it doesn't seem to bulk up at all.

    1. Glad you saw this post, although now I regret not taking a photo of the other M. savilliana! My non-photographed M. gracillipes hasn't grown much either, I think this plant wants more water than I am giving it.

  4. That last mahonia real got me excited -- it's almost cycad-esque! And all these mahonias have reasonably good evergreen presence year-round? For shade, of course...

    1. If you’re looking for your Oregon garden you can do full sun with no problems.

    2. Yes, they're all evergreen. A fact I should have thought to mention.

  5. AnonymousMay 07, 2022

    Not particularly enamored by mahonia? You could have full me :-D
    The saving grace of mahonia blooms is the delightful citrusy fragrance. The dark berries are favored by birds and never last long in my garden. I noticed both of the mature 'soft caress' have ugly brown spots on them due to late winter freeze I suppose. Mahonia confusa 'Narihira' trial plant combined with the Rodgersia still in its bronze glory is a sight to behold.

    1. I can honestly say have not smelled the citrusy fragrance, now I have something to remember for the next time they bloom!

  6. FYI. The berries of mahonias make a very tasty jelly.

  7. AnonymousMay 08, 2022

    I have zero mahonia but enjoyed looking at your happy collection. That photo taken at the front of your house with the Agave ovatifolia, dark leaved (daphne?) etc is the perfect vignette of contrasting colours and forms, all working together so harmoniously. Perfection. -Horticat

  8. I have the three natives and a big ol' Arthur Menzies. Love them all. Why don't I have more? I don't know!! Inspired by your post, I'm putting 'Cistus Silvers' on my list right now. Andrew's description of "palm mahonia" is super interesting. For 'Soft Caress' and the like, that paints it right OUT of the box--I mean, it's a fresh way to think of it.

  9. AnonymousJuly 16, 2023

    I love the native mahonia that we’ve had in our yards in four NC houses. I’ve pruned appropriately and appreciated their virtues. I had no idea there were other nursery grown varieties! I’ll be on the lookout.


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