Mahonia pinnata
Common name: 
California Barberry
California Holly Grape
ma-HO-ni-a pin-NAY-tuh
Berberis pinnata
Native to (or naturalized in) Oregon: 
  • Evergreen shrub, upright, to about 15 ft (4 m).  Leaves alternate compound pinnate (7-11 leaflets), 9-20 cm long, leaflets glossy green, crowded, ovate to ovate-lanceolate, 3-7 cm long, margin undulating, with 10-20 spine-tipped teeth; petioles very short.  Flowers small, pale yellow, 20-50 per terminal clusters (racemes), 6-8 cm long, in early spring.  Fruit purplish-black berry, 8 mm wide (mid-summer).
  • Partial or full shade.  Performs best in moist, well-drained, acid soil.
  • Hardy to USDA Zone 5     Native range extends from British Columbia to Baja.  It is considered to have two forms, the mainland subspecies is M. pinnata subsp. pinnata and the Channel Islands supspecies M. pinnata subsp. insularis.
  • M. pinnata hybrizes readily with Mahonia aquifolium, Oregon Grape, whose native range is from British Columbia into Oregon.  M. pinnata, compared to M. aquifolium, has more leaflets (7-11 vs. 5-9), and the leaflets have a finer texture and more spines (Hinkley, D. 2004. Amer. Gardener 83(6):19-23).
  • Two available selections that are:
    • ‘Ken Hartman’  -  to at least 6 ft (1.8 m) high with a greater spread, upright stems and short side shoots, the spiny, polished leaves are bronze at first and dark green when mature.  Many yellow flowers are borne at the shoot tips in summer, giving way to typical dark blue berries in fall.
    • ‘Skylark’  -  a selection from a seedling crop made by M. Nevin Smith, which may be either M. pinnata or a chance hybrid between it and M. aquifolium.  It is a roundish, closely branched shrub of 5 ft (1.5 m) or more.  Its leaves are 15 cm long and dark green with a highly polished surface,  New growth is a brilliant red in new growth and leaves are purple-tinted in winter.  The leaflets are broader and less crinkled than those of typical M. pinnata, but nearly as spiny.
  • pinnata: feathered, pinnate; a reference to the pinnately compound leaf, such a leaf is made up of leaflets along each side of a common stalk (rachis), resembling the structure of a feather.
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