Evergreen shrubs with dark green leaves divided into a number of segments, the number, size and shape of the segments varying in different kinds. The yellow flowers are produced in rather dense clusters in spring, and are followed by dark purple or blueblack fleshy fruits covered by a definite bloom (waxy coating). The flesh of the fruits, though acid, is edible and can be used for making jelly.
The various kinds are natives of North America and Asia. Some are hardy in the North, a few can only be grown in the milder districts. Mahonia belongs to the Barberry family, Berberidaceae, and is very closely allied to Berberis. The name was given in honor of an American horticulturist, Bernard M’Mahon.
Methods of Propagation. All the Mahonias can be increased by means of seeds sown in sandy soil in a cold frame as soon as ripe. Seeds of the commonest kind, Mahonia Aquifolium, may be sown in a prepared bed of soil out of doors; in fact, in favored localities young plants frequently develop from naturally sown seeds. Some kinds can be propagated by division, or by layering the branches in spring, but with such kinds as Mahonia japonica and Mahonia napaulensis it is almost essential to rely on seeds.
Hints on Cultivation. The different kinds of Mahonia vary a good deal in their requirements. All thrive in well-drained, loamy soil, but Mahonia Aquifolium will llourish under varied conditions, in good soil and poor soil, in shade or in sunshine (except that, in the North, shade from winter sun and sweeping winds is important). It can be divided and the pieces transplanted with success; moreover it withstands regular and severe pruning, and it is useful for floral decorations. Mahonia japonica and M, napaulensis, on the other hand, require good soil and a fairly open position; they resent root disturbance and do not require regular pruning. They are less hardy than Mahonia AquifoliuMahonia Separate cultural directions are given with each kind mentioned.
Holly Mahonia. Mahonia Aquifolium, often called Holly Mahonia, is a dense shrub 6-8 ft. high which grows wild from British Columbia to Oregon; the thick, leathery leaves are made up of five to nine large, spine-margined leaflets, which often assume a purplish-bronze tint in winter and occasionally turn scarlet before they fall. A number of varieties have been singled out for distinctive names, the differences being in the stature, and size and shape of the leaves and leaflets.
A Shrub for Shady Places. Holly Mahonia is invaluable for covering banks, for planting beneath trees in the garden, or for undergrowth in plantations. It withstands pruning well and can be kept to a height of 1 1/2 ft. by pruning annually either in summer or spring. It can be increased by division or by seeds and, if desired, the blue-black fruits may be used for jelly. The branches are often cut for decorative purposes in winter. The flowering time is April and May.
Mahonia Aquifolium is hardy in sheltered places in Massachusetts and even as far north as Canada, where it is protected in winter by a good covering of snow.
Mahonia Fremontii, 6-12 ft. high, is a shrub which grows wild in western Texas, Colorado and California, and is hardy about as far north as Virginia. From three to seven rather small, bluish-green spiny leaflets make up each leaf; the flowers are yellow and the fruits bluish-black. It appears to dislike root disturbance and requires little pruning except when young; the points of the shoots should then be removed on several occasions.
Handsomest of All. Mahonia Bealei and Mahonia japonica are very handsome shrubs with erect, rigid stems with few branchlets, each branch being crowned by a head of large leaves made up of, usually, nine to thirteen leaflets, each 2-5 in. long and 1 1/2-3 1/2 in. wide. The fragrant, pale yellow flowers, which open in spring, are in erect clusters 6-9 in. long. The fruits are dark purple with a bluish blooMahonia These Mahonias should be planted in deep, loamy soil when quite small and then left alone. Mahonia Bealei is from China, and Mahonia japonica from Japan. They are hardy to southern New England.
Mahonia napaulensis is a less hardy but closely allied kind which shares with Mahonia japonica a dislike of root disturbance. It forms an erect bush with long, stout branches which are terminated by large heads of evergreen leaves 2 ft. long, made up of fifteen to twenty-five large leaflets. The heads of yellow flowers, which are out in April, are 9-12 in. long. This shrub is a native of the Himalayas.
Other Attractive Kinds. Mahonia nervosa, Oregon Grape, is a small, graceful shrub 12-18 in. high, with leaves 18 in. long made up of eleven to nineteen leaflets. It is wild in western North America. Mahonia Fortunei, a Chinese shrub with long, narrow leaflets, is also worth growing.
Mahonia repens, a dwarf shrub, 9-12 in. high, of spreading habit, may be regarded as a dwarf Mahonia Aquifoliu Mahonia It grows wild from British Columbia to California. It is about as hardy as Mahonia Aquifolium and can be grown in the same way.