About the Zoo | Employment | Volunteer | Press

Leatherleaf Mahonia

Scientific Name

Mahonia bealei

Origin

Native to China.  Considered an invasive species throughout most of the U.S.

Habitat

Grows best in areas of heavy shade to partial shade. The Mahonia does not like hot or midday sun. Prefers moist, well drained soils.  In the landscape setting it should only be watered when dry. Thrives in acidic soils but tolerates heavy clays. Does best when sheltered from wind.

Growth Nature

Grows as a multi-stemmed, evergreen shrub.  Forms a loose stemmed clump 4 to 6 ft. tall and about 3 to 4 ft. wide.  Can get as large as 10 ft. tall  and 8 ft. wide if not kept in check.  Looking somewhat like a holly, the leaves are about 18 inches long with 9 to13 stiff, sharply spiny, leaflets. The terminal leaflet is larger than the lateral leaflets.    

Points of Interest

  • The fruit forms grape-like clusters and are highly valued by birds, which will devour all the fruit within days of ripening.

  • There are about 70 species of Mahonia.  Many of these were introduced in the 19th century to this country by horticulturalist Bernard McMahon.  This is where the plant gets its name.

  • Mahonia is a popular shrub in the southern U.S., but has become quite invasive in some areas.

  • The flowers of this plant attract bees, while the fruit attract birds.