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Mahonia aquifolium fruit
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Ranunculales
Family: Berberidaceae
Genus: Mahonia
Type species
Mahonia aquifolium

See List of Berberis and Mahonia species

Mahonia is a genus of approximately 70 species of evergreen shrubs and, rarely, small trees in the family Berberidaceae, native to eastern Asia, the Himalaya, North and Central America.[1] They are closely related to the genus Berberis and botanists disagree on whether to recognize a separate Mahonia.[2] Many botanists prefer to classify Mahonia as a part of Berberis[3][4][5][6] because several species in both genera are able to hybridize, and because there are no consistent morphological differences between the two groups other than the leaf pinnation (Berberis sensu stricto appear to have simple leaves, but these are in reality compound with a single leaflet and are termed "unifoliolate"; additionally their branched spines are modified compound leaves[7]). However, recent DNA-based phylogenetic studies retain the two separate genera, by clarifying that unifoliolate-leaved Berberis s.s. is derived from within a paraphyletic group of shrubs bearing imparipinnate evergreen leaves, which are then divided into three genera: Mahonia, Alloberberis (formerly Mahonia section Horridae), and Moranothamnus (formerly Berberis claireae); a broadly-circumscribed Berberis (that is, including Mahonia, Alloberberis, and Moranothamnus) would also be monophyletic.[8][9]

Mahonia species bear pinnate leaves 10–50 cm (3.9–19.7 in) long with 3 to 15 leaflets, and flowers in racemes which are 5–20 cm (2.0–7.9 in) long. Several species are popular garden shrubs, grown for their ornamental, often spiny, evergreen foliage, yellow (or rarely red) flowers in autumn, winter and early spring, and blue-black berries. The flowers are borne in terminal clusters or spreading racemes, and may be among the earliest flowers to appear in the growing season.[10] The ripened fruits are acidic with a very sharp flavor.[11] The plants contain berberine, a compound found in many Berberis and Mahonia species which causes vomiting, lowered blood pressure, reduced heart rate, lethargy, and other ill effects when consumed.[11]

The genus name, Mahonia, derives from Bernard McMahon, one of the stewards of the plant collections from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The type species of the genus is M. aquifolium.[8]


The following list includes all currently recognized species of the genus Mahonia as accepted by Tropicos, Missouri Botanical Garden as of February 2016, sorted alphabetically. For each, binomial name is followed by author citation.[12][13]


Some Mahonia species serve as alternate hosts for the cereal disease stem rust (Puccinia graminis).[14]



  1. ^ Flora of China Vol. 19 Page 772 十大功劳属 shi da gong lao shu Mahonia Nuttall, Gen. N. Amer. Pl. 1: 211. 1818.
  2. ^ "Mahonia". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  3. ^ "Berberis fremontii in Flora of North America @".
  4. ^ Loconte, H., & J. R. Estes. 1989. Phylogenetic systematics of Berberidaceae and Ranunculales (Magnoliidae). Systematic Botany 14:565-579.
  5. ^ Marroquín, Jorge S., & Joseph E. Laferrière. 1997. Transfer of specific and infraspecific taxa from Mahonia to Berberis. Journal of the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science 30(1):53-55.
  6. ^ Laferrière, Joseph E. 1997. Transfer of specific and infraspecific taxa from Mahonia to Berberis. Botanicheskii Zhurnal 82(9):96-99.
  7. ^ Pabón-Mora, Natalia; González, Favio (2012). "Leaf development, metamorphic heteroblasty and heterophylly in Berberis s. l. (Berberidaceae)". The Botanical Review. 78 (4): 463–489. doi:10.1007/s12229-012-9107-2. S2CID 15401971.
  8. ^ a b Yu, Chih-Chieh; Chung, Kuo-Fang (2017). "Why Mahonia? Molecular recircumscription of Berberis s.l., with the description of two new genera, Alloberberis and Moranothamnus". Taxon. 66 (6): 1371–1392. doi:10.12705/666.6.
  9. ^ Chen, Xiao-Hong; Xiang, Kun-Li; Lian, Lian; Peng, Huan-Wen; Erst, Andrey S.; Xiang, Xiao-Guo; Chen, Zhi-Duan; Wang, Wei (2020-10-01). "Biogeographic diversification of Mahonia (Berberidaceae): Implications for the origin and evolution of East Asian subtropical evergreen broadleaved forests". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 151: 106910. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2020.106910. ISSN 1055-7903. PMID 32702526. S2CID 220731200.
  10. ^ RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 978-1405332965.
  11. ^ a b "Mahonia Oregon Grape, Hollyleaved barberry, Oregon Holly Grape, Oregon Holly PFAF Plant Database". Retrieved 2016-02-17.
  12. ^ "Mahonia". Tropicos. Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  13. ^ "Mahonia". The Plant List. Missouri Botanical Garden. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 17 February 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  14. ^ "Puccinia graminis (stem rust of cereals)". Invasive Species Compendium. Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International. 2019-12-10. Retrieved 2020-11-17.

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