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Berberis aquifolium

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About Oregon Grape (Berberis aquifolium) Berberis aquifolium is a species of flowering plant in the family Berberidaceae, native to western North America. It is the state flower of Oregon. In California, it grows throughout the mountains and foothills of northern and central California, and in Southern California, it grows primarily in the Transverse Range Mountains, Sierra foothills and higher elevations of the Peninsular Range. It is an evergreen shrub growing to 2 m (6 ft) tall by 1.5 m (5 ft) wide that spreads slowly by rhizomes. The leaves are dark green and holly shaped, and will often turn to hues of red and purple in the winter. Dense clusters of mildly fragrant yellow flowers are produced in early spring. The flowers are followed by spherical dark dusty blue berries, which give rise to the common name "Oregon grape". The Oregon grape is not related to true grapes, but gets its name from the purple clusters of edible berries whose color and slightly dusted appearance are reminiscent of grapes. There are three recognized varieties in the wild that were previously treated as separate species. Var. repens is a low growing form. There are also several cultivars available.

M. aquifolium is easy to grow, and a popular subject in shady or woodland plantings. It is valued for its striking foliage and flowers, which often appear before those of other shrubs. It is resistant to summer drought, tolerates poor soils, and does not create excessive leaf litter. It prefers shade or part shade, but appears to do reasonably well in full sun too. It's very drought tolerant once established, but tolerates summer water well, up to 1x/week.
Plant Description
Plant Type

Max. Height
3.5 - 7 ft (1.1 - 2.1 m)

Max. Width
6 ft (1.8 m)

Spreading, Upright Columnar

Fragrant - Pleasant

Growth Rate


Holly-like, prickly

Flower Color

Flowering Season
Spring, Winter

Native Status

Natural Setting
Site Type
Fir and pine forests and woodlands, occasionally chaparral and wetlands, up to 7,000 ft.

Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade

Elevation ?
35' - 9243'

Annual Precip. ?
7.0" - 156.6"

Summer Precip. ?
0.13" - 6.33"

Coldest Month ?
25.3° F - 53.2° F

Hottest Month ?
47.1° F - 79.3° F

Humidity ?
0.23 vpd - 26.54 vpd

Soil Description
Tolerates many soil types

Soil PH
6.0 - 8.0


Cold Tolerance(° F)
Tolerates cold to 0° F

Companion Plants
Trees - Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Yellow Pine (Pinus ponderosa), Red Fir (Abies magnifica), and many others. Companion shrubs and herbs - Wild Ginger (Asarum caudatum), Fleabanes (Erigeron species), Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolia), Larkspurs (Delphiniums species), Iris species, Penstemon species, Buttercups (Ranunculus species), Checkerbloom (Sidalcea species), and Canyon Sunflower (Venegasia carpesioides).

Wildlife Attracted
Insects are attracted to the flowers. Birds love the berries.

Landscaping Information
Ease of Care
Very Easy

Water Requirement ?
Extremely Low
Very Low
Moderate - High

Moderately Popular

Max. Summer Water ?
No Summer Water
Keep moist

Deep Organic

Because it spreads by rhizomes, remove any unwanted suckers. To maintain an upright form, prune wandering side branches in the dry season to avoid infection. It tolerates shearing and can be made into a hedge.

Pest Control
It is reported to be susceptible to a pest called Loopers that can strip the leaves from a plant. This may be more of a problem in hotter, drier areas or plants that are in full sun or otherwise stressed. It is said to be resistant to oak root fungus.

Propagation ?
The species hybridizes readily and has considerable intra-specific variability. To propagate a selected variety, use cuttings from the stem or rhizome.  For propagating by seed: 4-6 mos. warm then 3-4 mos. cold stratification (Heit 1971). Three mos. stratification may give satisfactory results.

Common uses
Bank Stabilization, Groundcovers, Hedges, Deer Resistant, Bird Gardens, Bee Gardens

Nursery Availability
Commonly Available

Other Names
Botanical Names
Mahonia aquifolium

Sources include: Wikipedia. All text shown in the "About" section of these pages is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Plant observation data provided by the participants of the California Consortia of Herbaria, Sunset information provided by Jepson Flora Project. Propogation from seed information provided by the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden from "Seed Propagation of Native California Plants" by Dara E. Emery. Sources of plant photos include CalPhotos, Wikimedia Commons, and independent plant photographers who have agreed to share their images with Calscape. Other general sources of information include Calflora, CNPS Manual of Vegetation Online, Jepson Flora Project, Las Pilitas, Theodore Payne, Tree of Life, The Xerces Society, and information provided by CNPS volunteer editors, with special thanks to Don Rideout. Climate data used in creation of plant range maps is from PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University, using 30 year (1981-2010) annual "normals" at an 800 meter spatial resolution.

Links:   Jepson eFlora Taxon Page  CalPhotos  Wikipedia  Calflora

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