E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Mahonia aquifolium (Pursh) Nutt.
tall Oregon-grape (hollyleaved barberry)
Berberidaceae (Barberry family)

Introduction to Vascular Plants

© Brian Klinkenberg  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #19779)

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Distribution of Mahonia aquifolium
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This lovely native evergreen shrub has thick dark green holly-like foliage on stems to about six feet tall. The buds begin to form in winter and open in early spring with bright clusters of yellow flowers. These are followed by deep blue ornamental fruits that mother robins feed to their young in my garden. The yellow pigment derived from the roots of this plant was used as a dye by First Nations peoples of British Columbia.

Note Author: Gary Lewis, Phoenix Perennials

Species Information

Click on the image below to view an expanded illustration for this species.

Evergreen shrub from a rhizome; stems branched, stoloniferous to stiffly erect, 0.5-2.5 (4.5) m tall; bark and wood yellowish.
Evergreen, hollylike, alternate, pinnate; leaflets usually 5-11, pinnately nerved, more than twice as long as broad, mostly with 12-29 prominent spiny teeth, shiny above but less so beneath.
Inflorescence of clustered racemes 3-8 cm long; flowers yellow, the segments in 6's.
Clustered berries 7-14 mm in diameter, blue, glaucous, with a few large seeds, edible.

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia

USDA Species Characteristics

Flower Colour:
Blooming Period:
Late Spring
Fruit/Seed characteristics:
Colour: Blue
Present over the Summer
Source:  The USDA

Habitat / Range

Mesic to dry open or closed forests in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; common in S BC; E to AB and S to ID and OR.

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia


Ecological Framework for Mahonia aquifolium

The table below shows the species-specific information calculated from
original data (BEC database) provided by the BC Ministry of Forests and Range.
(Updated August, 2013)

Site Information
Value / Class




Elevation (metres) 15 920 2400
Slope Gradient (%) 0 28 240
Aspect (degrees)
[0 - N; 90 - E; 180 - S; 270 - W]
0 193 360
Soil Moisture Regime (SMR)
[0 - very xeric; 4 - mesic;
8 - hydric]
0 3 8
Modal Nutrient Regime
Number of field plots
 species was recorded in:
Modal BEC Zone Class
All BEC Zones (# of stations/zone) species was recorded in: AT(1), BG(19), CDF(57), CWH(37), ESSF(42), ICH(1387), IDF(1849), MS(530), PP(146), SBPS(34), SBS(265)

Ecological Indicator Information

A shade-tolerant/intolerant, submontane to montane, Western North American evergreen shrub distributed more in the Cordilleran than the Pacific region. Occurs predominantly in continental cool temperate and cool semiarid climates on very dry to moderately dry, nitrogen-medium soils; its occurrence increases with increasing summer drought and continentality. Sporadic in summer-dry mesothermal climates, common in open-canopy Douglas-fir forests in the coast-interior ecotone. Often associated with Agropyron spicatum, Calamagrostis rubescens, and Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus. Characteristic of moisture-deficient sites.

SourceIndicator Plants of Coastal British Columbia (Information applies to coastal locations only)


The climate type for this species, as reported in the: "British Columbia plant species codes and selected attributes. Version 6 Database" (Meidinger et al. 2008), is cool temperate & cool semiarid.

Synonyms and Alternate Names

Berberis aquifolium Pursh
Berberis aquifolium var. aquifolium
Berberis piperiana (Abrams) McMinn
Mahonia piperiana Abrams
Odostemon aquifolium (Pursh) Rydb.

Taxonomic and Nomenclatural Links

Additional Photo Sources

General References