Unique Mahonia Evergreen Brings the First Scent of Spring

Mahonia Blooms

Updated on March 11, 2024

The Amazing Mahonia Evergreen, Also Known as Oregon Grape Holly

Fragrant Yellow Flowers in Late Winter!

I live in the Central Piedmont area of the Carolinas, in grow zone 7b. I was outdoors, enjoying some unusually mild weather at the end of February when this amazing scent got my attention. The aroma reminded me of Lily of the Nile.

Toward the back of my yard, I have 5 Leatherleaf Mahonia shrubs (Mahonia Japonica Bealei). Also known as Oregon Grape Holly shrubs, Their lemon-yellow clusters of bell-shaped flowers were opening.  The first sign of spring!  The scent was truly wonderful.  

I might try to get a sprig or 2 to bring indoors to put in a vase but right now there are too many pollinators (bees) going after the nectar. I don’t want to disturb them. I’ve posted a few pictures below.

Mahonia is often overlooked by landscapers.  It is a bit unique with woody stems.  The leaves are prickly and almost leather-like. They look like holly leaves but the Mahonia is more related to barberry shrubs. It gets small blue fruit in spring and summer that forms in clusters, like grapes.  It’s often referred to as an Oregon Grape Holly.

Their woody stems grow upright, and some Mahonia can grow more than 10 feet tall. There are varieties available for Grow Zones 5 through 11. 

Mahonia is relatively easy to grow and drought-tolerant once established. Even better Mahonia does well in shady areas. Mine thrive under the canopy of a huge oak tree.

They would look great as a grouped planting in a shady natural or wooded area in your landscape. They could also be used as privacy, just don’t plant them too near a walkway or any areas where your family could get snagged by the leaves.

New Dwarf Mahonia!

Soft Caress Mahonia (Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’) is a newer variety that won’t prick you. At about 3 feet tall, it has become a popular container plant. Winter Sun, named for its lemon-yellow flowers, is another popular variety as well as Leather Leaf Mahonia (Mahonia Japonica Bealei)

If you want a unique, shade-loving evergreen shrub that will bring you the first scent of spring, Mahonia may be for you.

Mahonia Shrub Frequently Asked Questions

Can Mahonia shrubs tolerate cold climates?

Yes, Mahonia shrubs are generally hardy and can tolerate cold climates. However, extreme winter conditions may damage the foliage or flowers.

Are Mahonia berries poisonous?

While Mahonia berries are not typically consumed by humans due to their tartness, they are not considered highly toxic. However, it's important to avoid ingestion in large quantities.

Do Mahonia shrubs attract bees?

Yes, Mahonia shrubs attract bees with their brightly colored flowers, making them beneficial for pollinator-friendly gardens.

How often should I fertilize Mahonia shrubs?

Fertilize Mahonia shrubs in spring with a slow-release, balanced fertilizer. Follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding frequency and application rates.


Perfect Plants

Mahonia Image Gallery

Doug Hall