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Berberis aquifolium

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Berberis aquifolium
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Ranunculales
Family: Berberidaceae
Genus: Berberis
B. aquifolium
Binomial name
Berberis aquifolium
  • Berberis brevipes Greene
  • Berberis pinnata Banks ex DC.
  • Mahonia aquifolium (Pursh) Nutt.
  • Mahonia brevipes (Greene) Rehder
  • Mahonia diversifolia Sweet
  • Mahonia latifolia Dippel
  • Mahonia moseri Ahrendt
  • Mahonia moseriana Moser
  • Mahonia murrayana Dippel
  • Mahonia undulata Ahrendt
  • Odostemon aquifolius (Pursh) Rydb.
  • Odostemon brevipes (Greene) A.Heller
  • Odostemon nutkanus (DC.) Rydb.

Berberis aquifolium, the Oregon grape or holly-leaved barberry, is a species of flowering plant in the family Berberidaceae, native to western North America. It is an evergreen shrub growing 1–3 meters (3–10 feet) tall and 1.5 m (5 ft) wide, with pinnate leaves consisting of spiny leaflets, and dense clusters of yellow flowers in early spring, followed by dark bluish-black berries.[2]

The berries are included in the diet of some aboriginal peoples of the Pacific Northwest, and the species is recognized as the state flower of Oregon.


Berberis aquifolium grows to 1–3 metres (3+12–10 feet) tall[3] by 1.5 m (5 ft) wide. The stems and twigs have a thickened, corky appearance. The leaves are pinnate and up to 30 centimetres (12 inches) long, comprising spiny leaflets. The leathery leaves resemble those of holly. The yellow flowers are borne in dense clusters 3–6 cm (1+142+14 in) long in late spring. Each of the six stamens terminates in two spreading branches. The six yellow petals are enclosed by six yellow sepals. At the base of the flower are three greenish-yellow bracts, less than half as long as the sepals. The spherical berries are dark dusty-blue and tart in taste.[4][5]


Berberis aquifolium contains 5'-methoxyhydnocarpin (5'-MHC), a multidrug resistance pump inhibitor, which works to decrease bacterial resistance in vitro.[6]


Some botanists continue to place part of the barberry genus Berberis in a separate genus, Mahonia.[7][8][9][10] Under this classification Berberis aquifolium is named Mahonia aquifolium.[11] As of 2023 Plants of the World Online (POWO) classifies it as Berberis aquifolium with no valid subspecies.[1]


The Latin specific epithet aquifolium denotes "sharp-leafed" (as in Ilex aquifolium, the common holly), referring to the spiny foliage.[12][citation needed]

Berberis aquifolium is not closely related to either the true holly (Ilex aquifolium) or the true grape (Vitis), but its common name, Oregon-grape holly comes from its resemblance to these plants.[13]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Berberis aquifolium is a native plant in the North American West from Southeast Alaska to Northern California to central New Mexico, often occurring in the understory of Douglas-fir forests (although other forest types contain the species) and in brushlands in the Cascades, Rockies, and northern Sierra Nevada.[citation needed]


The yellow flowers are pollinated by Bombus species, amongst other insects.

As with some other Berberis, Berberis aquifolium can serve as an alternate host for Wheat yellow rust (Puccinia striiformis f. sp. tritici; the primary host of Pst being wheat). However, in B. aquifolium this was only achieved by intentional inoculation in a lab, and it remains unknown whether this occurs naturally.[14]

In some areas outside its native range, Berberis aquifolium has been classified as an invasive exotic species that may displace native vegetation.[15][16]


Berberis aquifolium is a popular subject in shady or woodland plantings. It is valued for its striking foliage and flowers, which often appear before those of other shrubs. It is resistant to summer drought, tolerates poor soils, and does not create excessive leaf litter. Its berries attract birds.[2]

Numerous cultivars and hybrids have been developed, of which the following have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:[17]


Small fruits come in grape-like clusters

The small purplish-black fruits, which are quite tart and contain large seeds, are edible raw[20] after the season's first frosts.[21] They were included in small quantities in the traditional diets of Pacific Northwest indigenous peoples, mixed with salal or another sweeter fruit. Today, they are sometimes used to make jelly, alone or mixed with salal.[22] Oregon-grape juice can be fermented to make wine, similar to European barberry wine folk traditions, although it requires an unusually high amount of sugar.[23]

The inner bark of the larger stems and roots of Oregon grape yield a yellow dye. The berries contain a dye that can be purple,[24] blue, pink, or green depending on the pH of water used to make the dye, due to the berries containing a naturally occurring pH indicator.[original research?]

Medicinal uses[edit]

Some Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Plateau use Oregon grape for indigestion.[25]

The plant contains berberine and reportedly has antimicrobial properties similar to those of goldenseal.[26]


In 1899, Oregon-grape was recognized as the state flower of Oregon.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Berberis aquifolium Pursh". Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 6 November 2023.
  2. ^ a b RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 978-1-4053-3296-5.
  3. ^ "Landscape Plants: Mahonia aquifolium". Oregon State University: College of Agricultural Sciences - Department of Horticulture. Oregon State University. Retrieved 4 July 2020.
  4. ^ Williams, Michael P. (2012). "Berberis aquifolium, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.)". Jepson eFlora. Retrieved 2013-08-08.
  5. ^ "Oregon Grape, Holly Leaved Barberry, Oregon Holly, Mahonia aquifolium". Wild Food UK. Retrieved 2022-07-01.
  6. ^ Stermitz FR, Lorenz P, Tawara JN, Zenewicz LA, Lewis K (February 2000). "Synergy in a medicinal plant: antimicrobial action of berberine potentiated by 5'-methoxyhydnocarpin, a multidrug pump inhibitor". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 97 (4): 1433–7. Bibcode:2000PNAS...97.1433S. doi:10.1073/pnas.030540597. PMC 26451. PMID 10677479.
  7. ^ Whittemore, Alan T. "Berberis in Flora of North America". efloras. Archived from the original on 29 May 2023. Retrieved 6 November 2023.
  8. ^ Loconte, H., & J. R. Estes. 1989. Phylogenetic systematics of Berberidaceae and Ranunculales (Magnoliidae). Systematic Botany 14:565-579.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Laferrière, Joseph E. 1997. Transfer of specific and infraspecific taxa from Mahonia to Berberis. Bot. Zhurn. 82(9):96-99.
  11. ^ "Mahonia aquifolium (Pursh) Nutt". Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 6 November 2023.
  12. ^ Harrison, Lorraine (2012). RHS Latin for gardeners. United Kingdom: Mitchell Beazley. p. 224. ISBN 978-1-84533-731-5.
  13. ^ MBG. "Berberis aquifolium". Plant Finder. Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved 6 November 2023.
  14. ^ Wang, M. N.; Chen, X. M. (2013). "First Report of Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) as an Alternate Host for the Wheat Stripe Rust Pathogen (Puccinia striiformis f. sp. tritici) Under Artificial Inoculation". Plant Disease. 97 (6). American Phytopathological Society: 839. doi:10.1094/pdis-09-12-0864-pdn. ISSN 0191-2917. PMID 30722629. S2CID 73433566.
  15. ^ "North Carolina Botanical Garden / Conservation / Plants to Avoid in the Southeastern United States". Archived from the original on 2011-10-19. Retrieved 2007-05-13.
  16. ^ Plants to Avoid in the Southeastern United States Tennessee Invasive Exotic Plant List
  17. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 62. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  18. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Mahonia × wagneri 'Pinnacle'". Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  19. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Mahonia aquifolium 'Apollo'". Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  20. ^ Benoliel, Doug (2011). Northwest Foraging: The Classic Guide to Edible Plants of the Pacific Northwest (Rev. and updated ed.). Seattle, WA: Skipstone. p. 119. ISBN 978-1-59485-366-1. OCLC 668195076.
  21. ^ Lyons, C. P. (1956). Trees, Shrubs and Flowers to Know in Washington (1st ed.). Canada: J. M. Dent & Sons. p. 196.
  22. ^ Pojar, Jim; MacKinnon, Andy, eds. (1994). Plants of Coastal British Columbia: including Washington, Oregon & Alaska, rev. ed. Vancouver: Lone Pine Publishing. p. 95. ISBN 978-1-55105-532-9.
  23. ^ Henderson, Robert K. (2000). The Neighbourhood Forager. Toronto, Ontario: Key Porter Books. p. 111. ISBN 1-55263-306-3.
  24. ^ Bliss, Anne (1993). North American Dye Plants, rev. and enl. ed. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press. p. 130. ISBN 0-934026-89-0.
  25. ^ Hunn, Eugene S. (1990). Nch'i-Wana, "The Big River": Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land. University of Washington Press. p. 352. ISBN 0-295-97119-3.
  26. ^ Codekas, Colleen (2020-07-16). "Foraging for Oregon Grape". Grow Forage Cook Ferment. Retrieved 2022-07-29.
  27. ^ "State Symbols: Dance to Hops - Flower, State". Oregon Blue Book. Oregon Secretary of State. 2021. Retrieved 10 May 2021.

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