Return to the Name That Plant Forum | Post a Follow-Up

can anyone tell me what this is?

Posted by alexavd 7A (My Page) on
Wed, Apr 16, 14 at 22:33

Encountered this on the edge of a community pool parking lot (on 4/16/14 in zone 7A). Don't know if it was intentionally planted or if it just naturalized there. It looks like it's getting ready to bloom yellow flowers out of the top. So pretty! Will probably turn out to be some evil invasive thing ha ha. But anyway, just curious what it is...

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: can anyone tell me what this is?

It's a Mahonia.

I have -- IIRC -- the low Mahonia repens growing wild under an old hedge of Japanese privet. And neighbors have tall Mahonias (shrubs which they prune to keep at 4-5') in their foundation plantings.

I think the one in the photo is not M. repens. (Too many leaflets.)

RE: can anyone tell me what this is?

Here's the BONAP page showing which Mahonias are supposed to be growing wild where:

Hopefully one or more of the actual gurus will step in....

[According to BONAP, M. repens doesn't grow wild in NC. So maybe BONAP is out of date, or mine is an escapee, or mine is not M. repens at all.

And BONAP says the only Mahonia which does grow wild in NC is an invasive, M. bealei -- which is too tall and has too many leaflets to be my low Mahonia.

Your photo shows too many leaflets for your Mahonia to be M. bealei.]

The berries on my Mahonia and my neighbors' taller one are a gorgeous bright blue. I think I remember reading that they can be used for making jelly.

Last bit of trivia: they were named in honor of someone named McMahon.

RE: can anyone tell me what this is?

Dang awesome, I've been reading about this ever since you posted your first message. I had no idea where to even start to figure out what it was so thanks a lot. In my reading, it looked like it could be mahonia nervosa common name Oregon Grape - the nervosa I read is the shorter variety. The link you sent to the maps is fantastic - I take it you are in NC (I am in Northern Virginia), and according to the map, mahonia nervosa grows in SC.

OK so I looked at the map page again and saw that, as with NC, the bealei is also the only one that grows wild in Virginia. I google-imaged bealei and the pictures looked identical to my subject plant. I have been looking at mahonias ever since you're post, and the bealei pictures are the only ones that seem to be a perfect fit with my plant. One of the strongest similarities is the unusual form, the other mahonias didn't seem to have that distinctive form.

I'm curious why you think the leaves don't look like bealei.

And like I said before, with my luck, it WOULD be an invasive plant, ha ha ha!

This is awesome - I love learning about new plants!

RE: can anyone tell me what this is?

B. aquifolium is what most people out here know as (Tall) Oregon Grape, the state flower of Oregon. B. nervosa is commonly seen in the woods, and is sometimes referred to as Oregon Grape.

Both have edible berries--tart when first blue, getting sweeter when over-ripe and shriveling, like a raisin. The tall variety spreads over time to form thickets.

RE: can anyone tell me what this is?

alexavd, thanks for your enthusiasm. I've always thought Mahonia is a great plant -- even when I was calling it "that weird holly under the privets." Then one day I saw a photo on a website of NC plant photos and recognized it as my "weird holly."

Why I say yours isn't M. bealei: When I look at your left-hand photo, the leaf which points to 5 o'clock has at least 15 leaflets (I'm not sure if there are additional, smaller leaflets near the trunk). Though it looks like a branch with 15 leaves, that "branch" is actually all one leaf. That type of leaf is called a "compound leaf," and the individual smaller parts are known as "leaflets."

Here's NCSU's page on M. bealei:
It says "Foliage: Alternate, compound pinnate, leathery dark green to blue-green leaves; 1-2 feet long; 9-13 leaflets with 5-7 spines on each."

So M. bealei has a maximum of 13 leaflets: too few leaflets to be your Mahonia.

Here's an explanation of leaves and leaflets (examples are from the pea family):

Other examples of compound leaves include: clover; roses; walnut and ash trees; tomatoes; and poison ivy, oak, and sumac.

This post was edited by missingtheobvious on Thu, Apr 17, 14 at 0:36

RE: can anyone tell me what this is?

There do exist some hybrids, one is called M x intermedia ( or x media, but I think that got mangled by nurseries)
That has up to 21 leaflets.

@ missingtheobvious: do you think it could be possible that there are M bealei-cultivars on the market that are not just selected from the species but got hybridized at some point? And still are just labeled as straight M bealei? I really need to count some leaflets of plants near here, whether they fit.

RE: can anyone tell me what this is?

linaria, I can't help you on that. I didn't even know there were hybrids until you mentioned it. I think I've seen a tall Mahonia at a nursery, but I doubt I looked at the tag. Certainly there are many, many plants sold under the wrong name, if not multiple wrong names!

I only know the genus because one of them (possibly M. repens) happens to grow under my privet hedge, and I accidentally found a photo of it online when I was looking for another shrub (which grows under the neighbor's monster Leyland cypress hedge farther east along the property line -- possibly leechbrush, Nestronia umbellula, but I won't know till I see it bloom, and I keep forgetting to look!). Then I saw the taller Mahonia in my neighbor's foundation bed -- and later at another neighbor's house.

RE: can anyone tell me what this is?

The leaves look insufficiently toothed for M nervosa and it definitely isn't M aquifolium. I'd lean towards the japonica/bealei direction. Invasive in many states.

Here is a link that might be useful: Mahonia bealei

RE: can anyone tell me what this is?

That looks like M. bealei to me, with those heavy spines and thick-looking leaves. The plants are variable, with heights ranging from 20 inches to more than 12 feet tall and lateral leaflets with 4 to 10 pairs. More details on that species are available in the Flora of China key below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Flora of China

RE: can anyone tell me what this is?

There are some M. bealei growing in our woods. I would not classify them as necessarily invasive here. Only see them occasionally. I think they're cool and the deer don't seem to bother them.

 o Post a Follow-Up

Please Note: Only registered members are able to post messages to this forum.

    If you are a member, please log in.

    If you aren't yet a member, join now!

Return to the Name That Plant Forum

Information about Posting

  • You must be logged in to post a message. Once you are logged in, a posting window will appear at the bottom of the messages. If you are not a member, please register for an account.
  • Please review our Rules of Play before posting.
  • Posting is a two-step process. Once you have composed your message, you will be taken to the preview page. You will then have a chance to review your post, make changes and upload photos.
  • After posting your message, you may need to refresh the forum page in order to see it.
  • Before posting copyrighted material, please read about Copyright and Fair Use.
  • We have a strict no-advertising policy!
  • If you would like to practice posting or uploading photos, please visit our Test forum.
  • If you need assistance, please Contact Us and we will be happy to help.

Learn more about in-text links on this page here