Yellow Flowering Shrubs

Yellow Flowering Shrubs

The color yellow is ‘splashy’. Splashy demands attention. Plant some yellow flowering shrubs if you want an attention-getting yard! One of the best known and popular yellow flowering shrubs is the forsythia. Forsythia varieties are available in several sizes, and they all perform the same way. The forsythia stands out more than other yellows because of the multitude of flowers it produces. These shrubs bring on an early spring splash of yellow that brightens up an otherwise dull landscape.

Yellow flowering shrubs are perennial and hardy and make awesome specimen plants or hedges. After the flowering season is over, these shrubs provide attractive green foliage throughout the growing season. The long blooming plants, such as the potentilla, however, will keep the yellow in the landscape all summer long. Relatively new on the plant scene is a yellow lilac named Primrose. If a blue or purple lilac (Syringa) draws attention, try this new Primrose yellow flowering lilac for added pizazz. Yellow adds a brilliant contrast with the green foliage, so planting one of these yellow flowering shrubs will add an aesthetic beauty during the growing season. For more information click on any picture or call Nature Hills at 888.864.7663.

Forsythias – Bright Yellow Harbingers of Spring

Iowa State University Extension

After a long, drab winter, most gardeners anxiously await the arrival of spring. One sure sign that spring has truly arrived is the bright yellow flowers of the forsythia. Named after William Forsyth, an 18th century Scottish horticulturist, the forsythia is a deciduous shrub that is native to China, Korea and Europe.

In Iowa, forsythias typically bloom in early to mid-April. The four-petaled flowers vary from light yellow to bright golden yellow and persist for 10 to 14 days. Flowers are produced in groups or clusters along the stems. Forsythias bloom only on old wood.

Leaves emerge shortly after flowering. Forsythia leaves are medium to dark green in summer. Fall leaf color is usually poor. Occasionally, however, leaves may turn pale yellow to reddish purple in fall. Forsythias are one of the last deciduous shrubs to drop their leaves in fall. In Iowa, leaf drop typically occurs in late October or early November.
Forsythias are fast growing shrubs. Many cultivars (varieties) have spreading, arching growth habits and can reach a height of 8 to 10 feet.

Forsythias grow and bloom best in full sun. They will grow in partial shade, but won’t bloom as heavily. Forsythias adapt to a wide range of soils. However, they do not perform well in wet, poorly drained sites. Forsythias do not have serious insect or disease pests.

The forsythia is an excellent plant for mixed shrub borders. It can also be massed on sunny slopes or used as an informal hedge. Low-growing cultivars can be used as groundcovers.

When selecting a forsythia, choose a cultivar that reliably blooms in Iowa. The flower buds on some cultivars in Iowa are not reliably cold hardy. For example, the flower buds on ‘Lynwood Gold’ and ‘Spring Glory’ are hardy to -10 degrees F. Since most parts of Iowa experience winter temperatures below -10 degrees F, these cultivars often don’t bloom well in the state.

An excellent forsythia for Iowa is ‘Meadowlark.’ Jointly introduced by North Dakota State and South Dakota State Universities, in collaboration with the Arnold Arboretum, ‘Meadowlark’ will bloom after exposure to temperatures down to -30 degrees F. Flowers are bright yellow. ‘Meadowlark’ is a vigorous, rapidly growing shrub. Its height and width are 8 to 10 feet. ‘Meadowlark’ has a spreading, arching form.

‘Northern Sun’ is another good choice for the upper Midwest. Introduced by the University of Minnesota, ‘Northern Sun’ will flower after temperatures drop to -30 degrees F. The spreading, arching shrub grows 8 to 10 feet tall and has a similar spread. Flowers are yellow-gold.

Introduced by Iowa State University, ‘Sunrise’ is an excellent cultivar for southern and central Iowa. Its flower buds are hardy to -20 degrees F. Plants are covered with masses of small, medium yellow flowers in early spring. ‘Sunrise’ is a semi-spreading, compact shrub with a mature height and width of 5 feet. Its compact size makes ‘Sunrise’ ideal for small hedges or shrub borders.

Other forsythia cultivars that bloom well in Iowa include ‘Northern Gold,’ ‘New Hampshire Gold’ and ‘Vermont Sun.’

While most forsythia cultivars are grown for their attractive yellow flowers, a few are grown for other features. ‘Bronxensis’ is a low-growing cultivar that is often used as a groundcover. Plants commonly grow 18 to 24 inches tall. Unless covered by snow, ‘Bronxensis’ doesn’t usually bloom well in Iowa as its flower buds are hardy to -10 degrees F. Gold Tide(R) is another low-growing forsythia. The compact, spreading plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Its flower buds are hardy to -15 degrees F. Gold Tide(R) is commonly used as a groundcover and foundation planting. ‘Fiesta’ is a compact shrub with variegated foliage. Plants typically grow 3 to 4 feet tall. Leaves are green with yellow centers.

Forsythias are easy to grow, but do require some maintenance. Pruning is the most important chore. Proper pruning produces healthy, vigorous, heavily blooming shrub. Since they bloom on old wood, forsythias should be pruned immediately after flowering. Pruning the shrubs from mid-summer to late winter will drastically reduce flowering in spring.

When pruning mature forsythias, it’s best to remove one-fourth to one-third of the oldest (largest) stems at ground level every other year. New shoots will emerge from the ground and bloom in following years. Old, neglected forsythias can be rejuvenated by pruning them back to within 3 to 4 inches of the ground in late winter or early spring. The rejuvenated shrubs will grow back quickly and should begin blooming again in one or two years.

Some shrubs provide multi-season interest with attractive flowers, fruits or foliage. While the forsythia is rather one-dimensional, its yellow flowers are a beautiful, welcome sight in the spring landscape.

A high resolution version of the above photo is available for media use. forsythia.jpg (504k)


Leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei) has holly-like foliage and yellow, fragrant flowers. Photo by Nancy Loewenstein, Auburn University,

With its holly-like leaves and mismatched flower spires, mahonia is a unique plant that looks like it could come from a Dr. Seuss book.

This shrub has clusters of fragrant flowers that bloom in late winter and by summer will mature into small fruits that birds love to eat. If you’ve been on the hunt for a shade- and drought-tolerant plant, mahonia may be just the shrub for you.


Mahonia plants thrive in the shade and are drought tolerant once established. Both their yellow flowers in winter and blue-purple berries in the spring will add some unusual interest to shady areas in your landscape.

Mahonia is actually the name of an entire genus of woody, evergreen shrubs. There are dozens of species of Mahonia, but only a few work well in Florida.

Mahonia fortunei and Mahonia bealei are both on the Florida-Friendly plant list. However, it should be noted that M. bealei, commonly called leatherleaf mahonia, has not yet been assessed by the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas and has been reported as generally invasive in other parts of the Southeastern United States.

M. bealei has large, stiff, pointed green leaves; in full shade they’ll be a dark, blue-green color. This species grows to between 5 and 10 feet tall, and spreads 3 to 4 feet wide. Its blue-purple berries are very popular with birds. Leatherleaf mahonia grows best in North Florida.

M. fortunei, also called Chinese mahonia or Fortune’s mahonia, is Florida-Friendly and grows in Central and North Florida. This beautiful shrub is smaller than M. bealei, reaching 3 to 5 feet tall with an equal spread. The narrow green leaflets are spiny and have a fern-like appearance. Like most mahonias used in the landscape, it produces fragrant yellow flowers.

Fortune’s mahonia (Mahonia fortunei) is more compact than leatherleaf mahonia. Photo: Sydney Park Brown, UF/IFAS

There is also a Mahonia eurybracteata cultivar named ‘Soft Caress’ that offers great texture in the garden. This cultivar has unusual, narrow, thread-like leaflets that lack the sharp points of other mahonias. ‘Soft Caress’ grows 3 feet tall and spreads 3 to 4 feet wide. In Central Florida, this plant blooms in the fall.

A mahonia rarely seen here is Mahonia aquifolium, commonly called Oregon grapeholly, as it’s native to that state. It grows best in zone 8 and farther north, so it’s only an option for those in the Florida panhandle.

Planting and Care

Mahonia can be planted in North and Central Florida gardens in areas with full or partial shade. These slow-growing plants should be spaced 2 to 3 feet apart in the garden. They should be watered regularly until established; after that, these shrubs are drought tolerant. Mahonia spreads by a suckering root system, so be on the lookout for suckers if you don’t want your plant spreading. You can create a dense shrub by pruning back the tallest stems in early spring to encourage new growth at the base.

For more information on mahonia and other landscape plants, contact your local Extension office.

‘Soft Caress’ mahonia is a cultivar popular for its smooth, airy foliage.

UF/IFAS Publications

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Landscaping in the Shade

Landscape ShrubsLeatherleaf Mahonia(Mahonia bealei)

A really choice broadleaf evergreen shrub for Arkansas is the leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei). In late spring/early summer, when large clusters of electric blue “grapes” grace this plant, there is nothing more beautiful in the plant world.

Leatherleaf mahonia is almost a signature plant of the South. The broadleaf evergreen foliage is coarse and distinctive. The pinnately compound leaves are composed of nine to thirteen leaflets that are adorned with very sharp teeth at the margins. Individually, the leaflets look very much like a holly (Ilex) leaf. When the plant is grown in the shade the leaf color is a very dark, almost blue green. If you want, you could take advantage of these sharply serrated leaves and use this plant as a short hedge to stop people from trampling through certain parts of your yard. A small pint of blood could be donated if you are not careful when passing near this plant. Unlike its western cousin, Oregon grapeholly (Mahonia aquifolium), leatherleaf does not display a burgundy winter foliage color.

Soft, sulfur yellow flowers appear above the foliage in terminal racemes in mid-February to early March. While not overwhelming, the flowers benefit from being born above the dark foliage. Flowers are reported to be extremely fragrant.

Starting in late April and lasting through July, marvelous grape-like clusters of fruits adorn this plant. The oval-shaped blue-black berries are covered with a marvelous electric blue waxy bloom. While subtle, in many cases the fruit stalks may be a vivid red, which contrasts beautifully with the robin’s egg blue fruits. The amazing thing about these vivid fruits is that the clusters are often nestled in the evergreen foliage like a decorative table arrangement. Birds love the fruits, so they may be removed quickly after they ripen.

While leatherleaf mahonia can survive full sun, it is best planted in partial to full shade. In the South, this plant will look sickly yellow when grown in full sun. Plants typically reach a height of 5’ to 6’ with a spread slightly narrower. Because of the unique coarse texture, this plant is ideally suited for Oriental gardens. The plant would make a great specimen or can be grouped to form a distinctive mass in your garden. Placement does require some thought with this plant.

Leatherleaf mahonia has no serious disease or insect problems in Arkansas. Except for the sun exposure, this plant is fairly tough and adaptable. Pruning maintenance would be minimal with this garden shrub.

While cultivars of this species are not common, there are several other worthy species of mahonia that you might wish to pursue. Its western cousin, Mahonia aquifolium, is another fine broadleaf evergreen for most of Arkansas. Similar in many ways to leatherleaf, Oregon grapeholly tends to spread more and displays vivid wine purple winter foliage color. While the leaves are not quite as coarse, the flowers and fruits are almost identical. For southern Arkansas, you might want to try the Chinese mahonia (M. fortunei) or Mahonia gracilis. Creeping mahonia (M. repans) would be a cute plant for gardens in northern Arkansas. The plant is only 18” tall.

In older literature, Mahonia plants were lumped in with barberries (Berberis). The genus, Mahonia, is named in honor of Bernard McMahon, a patron of the botanical sciences.

  • Common Name: leatherleaf mahonia
  • Varieties to look for: none
  • Flower Color: soft yellow
  • Blooming period: early spring
  • Perennial or annual: woody shrub
  • Size: 5’ tall x 4’ wide
  • Exposure: shade
  • Soil: rich, organic matter preferred
  • Watering: fairly tolerant
  • When to prune: anytime
  • Suggested use: specimen, oriental garden

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This week’s plant for #WildEdibleWednesday is Mahonia beali, or the Leatherleaf Mahonia. Often overlooked as a bland landscape plant or an semi-invasive shrub, this is, in fact, a valuable medicinal plant with a fascinating backstory that involves plant smuggling and China’s Opium Wars. For me, this was another plant that I’d seen all my life without knowing what it was. Since it isn’t native, it wasn’t part of the traditional Appalachian herbal medicine cabinet, and I was never taught about it as a child. And I’m going to bet it’s the same for you – if you live in the South, you probably see this plant nearly every day without realizing it. Botanists argue over where Mahonia belongs in plant taxonomy. Some classify it as a species of Barberry and classify it in the genus Berberis, while others give it (and its two dozen or so close relatives) their own genus. While this may seem irrelevant to most of us, this is the kind of stuff that starts knock-down, drag-out ugly bar fights among taxonomists.

Leatherleaf Mahonia is an upright, branching shrub that gets about 6’ tall and 6’ across at its largest. Small specimens have a single stem, larger shrubs have multiple stems branching from a single base. Mahonia is broadleaf evergreen, making it a true winter wild edible – or medicinal as the case may be. It has rather non-descript smooth light gray bark that may gain some slight texture in the largest examples. Mahonia blooms in late winter or early spring depending on climate, with long fingers of striking yellow blooms. This makes them easy to spot, as they stand out prominently against the drab winter woods. After the plant blooms, it sets fruit in late April or early May, which we’ll talk about shortly. It’s usually easiest to identify Mahonia by its leaves, as they’re present all year long. What look like leaves are actually leaflets. The leaves themselves branch straight out from the stem, and dozens of symmetrically paired individual leaflets are attached to that leaf stem. Leaves are 1”-2” long, dark green, thick, and waxy. Each leaf vein terminates in a sharp thorn, with 5-7 thorns per leaf. This final characteristic leads to the most cases of misidentification, as it’s easy for a casual observer to get Mahonia mixed up with American Holly. While the leaves do look similar and both plants are broadleaf evergreens, that’s where the similarity ends. Holly leaves are true leaves, not leaflets. Holly is a tree, and grows from a single trunk with alternating branches. Holly has bright red berries, Mahonia does not. However, be absolutely certain before you use either species. American Holly is poisonous when misused, especially the berries. As we always say, don’t eat a plant or use it medicinally unless you can positively identify it without a doubt. Like I mentioned in the beginning, Leatherleaf Mahonia is not a native plant in the Eastern Woodlands. It’s native to the lush temperate forests of Eastern China, and how it came to be here is a pretty fascinating story, which we’ll talk about in a minute. But suffice to say, it’s become widely naturalized throughout the South, even to the point of being invasive in some areas. Widely planted as a landscaping shrub in decades past, birds ate the seeds and pooped them out in an airdrop campaign all over the South. It’s illegal to plant Mahonia in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee, as well as Michigan for some reason. Obviously this plant is not picky about habitat, but it prefers sunny, open woods underneath established hardwoods. It likes rich soil and plenty of moisture, but doesn’t like to get its feet wet. You’ll most often find it in second-growth cove forests, often near the edges. Remember, this plant is spread by birds, and that’s where the birds hang out.

Before we talk about Leatherleaf Mahonia’s edible characteristics, it should be said that there’s a native Mahonia species in North America, and it’s very well known among foragers and survivalists on the West Coast. M. aquifolium, commonly known as Oregon Grape, is well-loved by the pioneer descendants of the Pacific Northwest as an ingredient in jellies, pies, jams, juice, etc. In fact, I had a hard time finding information on the Leatherleaf Mahonia because of all the articles out there about Oregon Grape. Happily, both species can be used almost interchangeably. Oregon Grape is preferable if you can find it, but good luck with that in Georgia. Leatherleaf Mahonia bears long, string-like racemes of dark purple fruit in early to mid spring. These fruits are egg shaped and about an inch long. They’re extremely high in vitamin C and have a tart flavor that’s great for cooking with. They’re very seedy, but if you’re mashing them up and straining them for jelly or jam, that doesn’t really matter. They’re valuable as a wilderness survival food, as they’re bearing when few other fruits are available and are high in the simple carbohydrates necessary to keep you going while you hunt or gather other resources. The only disadvantage is that birds love them more than just about any other fruit, so if you see them, grab them. They might not be there when you get back. Be advised, however, that consumption of these berries in large quantities (pounds of them, for most people), can have ill effects such as lethargy, low blood pressure, slowed heart rate, and vomiting due to a compound called berberine that’s present in the seeds. Like any other plant, if you’ve never eaten it before, please use common sense and try a small sample to see how your body responds.

Medicinally, Mahonia is valuable for treating a wide range of common ailments. That same compound called berberine, which when consumed from the seeds can cause ill effects, is medicinal when used with the correct dosage and delivery method. The primary way of using Mahonia medicinally is with a decoction of the roots, inner bark, or dried leaves. All parts of the plant contain berberine, so it doesn’t matter much what Mahonia pieces you use to make your decoctions. Like any other decoction, boil it down for twenty minutes or so until the water is reduced by half, and then add half that amount of water back again. Once it’s done, this decoction is useful for treating almost any sort of internal bacterial infection, be it bacterial bronchitis, pneumonia, sinus infections, strep throat, or even tuberculosis. Additionally, it can be used for treating bacterial infections of the gut, such as dysentery, food poisoning, or other stomach upset. The berberine acts as a gentle natural antibiotic, helping kill off the offending microbes and helping the immune system do its job. This decoction is also high in tannins, which help reduce fevers and inflammation, so it’s great for strained muscles, arthritis pain, and the body aches associated with colds and fevers.

For such an overlooked shrub, Mahonia actually has a pretty interesting backstory. In the Victorian era, Europeans (and to some extent, Americans) were exploring previously untouched corners of the globe and bringing home whatever they could find. Cultivating a scientific collection quickly became a status symbol among the upper class. Aristocrats and wealthy merchants were constantly trying to one-up each other with who had the most exotic specimens, and they were willing to pay. Enough that there were people who were employed to go around the world and collect plants, and the more exotic the plant and the more dangerous the expedition, the bigger the payoff. While these men were technically botanists, they were also badass Indiana Jones types who arranged daring raids into forbidden kingdoms and hostile tribal domains in order to bring back the rarest of the rare. The most famous of these men was undoubtedly Robert Fortune. Fortune was a plant spy who infiltrated the Chinese mainland, which was then closed off to Westerners. Disguised as a Chinese peasant, he worked as a botanical mercenary in this forbidden land for many years, risking death or torture had he been discovered. His most famous act literally changed history, he smuggled tea plants (and the secrets of growing and harvesting them) out of China and into the hands of the British East India Company, who planted them in India and broke the Chinese monopoly on tea. This was a crack in the armor of imperial China, which eventually led to the Opium Wars and the fall of the thousand-year-old Chinese royal dynasty. However, on one of his more routine missions, he was commissioned to hunt down new plants for Thomas Beale, the wealthy British consul in Shanghai. The story goes that Fortune saw a plant of interest growing inside the walled garden of a Chinese nobleman in Peking. He waited until the nobleman had left on a trip, climbed the wall, yanked the plant out of the ground, and snuck it back to Shanghai, where he named it after his patron: Mahonia beali. From there, it grew popular with both British and American gardeners… it never naturalized in Britain (probably too cold), but it took off in the States. You’ll still see it planted in the landscape around older homes, but it’s mostly fallen out of favor due to its invasiveness. But whenever you’re walking through the winter woods and see one of these striking, thorny shrubs, you’ll know the story of how a plant collector risked his life for it to end up there – and how to use it for your benefit.

What about you? Have you ever eaten Mahonia or Oregon Grape? Do you know of any other uses for it? Tell us in the comments!

– Alex

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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Seeds, government assistance, Edible plants

I receive a food stamp benefit, and I’ve been able to use it to buy food plants to grow in my garden, but I would like to be able to grow food from seed. Do you know if the benefit covers seeds for food crops?


Thanks for pointing out that food stamp benefits can be used for food plants! I consulted with legal experts at Seattle’s Solid Ground and found out that the benefit does include seeds. Here is the where this is stated:
“Households CAN use SNAP benefits to buy: Seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat.”

According to the historical information on the website of SNAP Gardens, this benefit has existed since 1973, when the Food Stamp Act was amended to include “seeds and plants for use in gardens to produce food for the personal consumption of the eligible household.” You would still need to obtain the seeds from an existing vendor who accepts the food stamp benefit.

Date 2019-12-27

Keywords: Berberis x hortensis, Berberis nervosa, Berberis aquifolium, Edible plants

Are the fruits of Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ edible, similar to Mahonia x media?

First, an aside: Mahonia has been ‘moved’ to Berberis, so that now Mahonia x media is named Berberis x hortensis, and Mahonia aquifolium is now Berberis aquifolium. Since the resources I will be quoting use the former names, I will leave them as they are.

Here’s what British author Alys Fowler says in her book, The Thrifty Forager (Kyle Books, 2011):
“All Mahonia species are edible, long-used for jams and juices in their native homes Sometimes you’ll find Mahonia nervosa, the Oregon grape, with the roundest grape-like berries. It looks very like Mahonia aquifolium but usually fruits later, around early autumn. Even when fully ripe, the acidic berries are too bitter to eat raw–they should be cooked into pies, jellies and jams. The flowers are edible, but bitter. The fruit needs to be picked and processed into jam or jelly very quickly, and it stains everything. It’s very low in pectin, so either add crab apples or add liquid pectin, following the usual jam making rules. You can also make an Oregon grape cordial which tastes a bit like blackcurrant cordial. Because of the low sugar content, it will need to be frozen if you want to store it–it’s a very sharp cordial, I use 350-400g (just under 1 lb) if granulated sugar to 600 ml (1 pint) of fruit. If that’s still too sharp, try mixing it with concentrated apple juice to sweeten it.”

Plants for a Future Database has pages for several Mahonia and Berberis species, including Mahonia x media, and its fruit is listed as edible.

Date 2019-10-02

Keywords: Salix, Edible plants

There’s a type of willow used traditionally in Iran to make a fragrant beverage. In Farsi, it’s called bid, and I think it’s also known as musk willow. I need to know what the species is, and I wonder if it will grow in the Seattle area.

Most sources I consulted confirm that musk willow or bid is Salix aegyptiaca. Encyclopaedia Iranica says “bid” is a general term for the genus Salix, but does identify “musk willow” as Salix aegyptiaca. The online version of W.J. Bean’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs: Temperate Woody Plants in Cultivation says the following:
“Native of S.E. Anatolia, S.E. Transcaucasia and N. Persia; introduced to the Botanic Garden at Innsbruck in 1874 by Dr Polak, doctor to the Shah of Persia, and in cultivation at Kew five years later. At one time a perfumed drink was made in Moslem lands from its male catkins, which were also sugared and eaten as a sweetmeat, and used for perfuming linen. For these it was cultivated from Egypt to Kashmir and central Asia, so the epithet aegyptiaca is not so inappropriate as it would otherwise seem to be.”

Salix aegyptiaca is featured in the February 2016 issue of the Royal Horticultural Society’s publication, The Garden in an article entitled “Willow the wish” by David Jewell. Since the article recommends it for gardens in England, where the climate is similar to ours here in the Pacific Northwest, it will probably thrive here in Seattle as well.

Date 2019-11-07

Keywords: Juglans, Edible plants, Poisonous plants

Is it safe to eat pickles made from unripe walnuts (including hulls)? Are some types of unripe walnuts safe to eat and others not safe? I am not sure what kind of walnut is in my garden.

I am also a bit worried by articles I found online which say that juglone from walnuts can cause cell damage. Maybe I should skip this culinary adventure?

Pickled walnuts (from English walnut, Juglans regia) are a traditional British delicacy. The Royal Horticultural Society even mentions them. Alys Fowler’s book, The Thrifty Forager (2011), says the walnuts for pickling must be picked in early summer before they harden. Traditionally, walnuts for pickling were harvested June 15, St. John’s feast day. The famous 16th century herbalist John Gerard said, “the green and tender Nuts boyled in Sugar eaten as a Suckad, are a most pleasant and delectable meat, comfort the stomacke, and expell poison.”

All walnut species have edible properties, though black walnut may be more bitter than English walnut. Edible East Bay published an article by Kristen Rasmussen in summer 2015 on pickling green walnuts from a native Californian species of walnut, Juglans californica.

Anyone who is sensitive to walnuts probably should avoid the pickled ones, too. Like many plants, walnuts have both edible uses and toxic properties. If you do not consume large quantities of walnuts (pickled or otherwise), I do not think there should be dire medical consequences. Toxic Plants of North America, 2nd ed., 2013 (Burrows and Tyrl) has a section on walnut (Juglans). The main toxicity concern discussed is that to horses, and in their case, it is mainly due to the use of walnut wood shavings in horse stalls.

A word about finding random articles on the internet: Context matters, and the citation you found about cell damage is in the context of using juglone (administered in a medical research facility) to kill cancer cells. It is not the context of everyday consumption of walnuts. Reliable sources are hard to find via the internet, and I would view with skepticism any site that is primarily commercial and does not cite trustworthy sources.

I could not find any references to the effects of pickling on the chemical composition of walnuts. Certainly, pickling (like any form of food preparation) will have some effects on nutrients. But since pickled walnuts are likely an occasional snack and not a staple upon which one’s diet is founded, there is no cause for concern.

Date 2019-05-15


These useful and easy-to-grow plants remind many people of holly (Ilex), though they’re closely related to barberry (Berberis). Handsome, typically spiny leaves are divided into leaflets. Showy yellow flowers are borne in dense, rounded or spikelike clusters in late winter or spring. Blooms are followed by berrylike blue, blue-black, or red fruit that attracts birds. Prune to reduce size or lankiness, cutting selected stems to the ground or to a node. Avoid planting too close to walkways and sitting areas, where prickly foliage might snag passersby. Generally pest free and seldom browsed by deer. Provide well-drained soil.

oregon grape holly

mahonia aquifolium

  • Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8.
  • Native from British Columbia to Northern California.
  • Erect growth to 6 feet or taller; spreads by underground stems to 5 feet wide.
  • Leaves 410 inches long, with five to nine very spiny-toothed, oval, 1- to 212 inches leaflets that are glossy green in some forms, dull green in others.
  • Young growth is ruddy or bronzy; scattered mature red leaves.
  • Purplish or bronzy leaves in winter, especially in Upper South or where plants are grown in full sun.
  • Spring flowers in 2- to 3 inches clusters along stems; edible blue-black fruit with a powdery coating (makes good jelly).


  • grows 23 feet tall and wide and spreads freely to make broad colonies.
  • New leaves glossy, light to coppery green; mature leaves matte, medium green.
  • Kings Ransom’ is an upright grower to 56 feet tall and 45 feet wide; dark bluish green leaves turn red-purple in winter.
  • Orange Flame, 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide, has bronzy orange new growth and glossy green mature leaves that turn wine red in winter.

Oregon grape holly can take any exposure, though it does best with some shade in the Lower South and wind protection in the Upper South. Use in masses as foundation planting, in woodland garden, as low screen or garden barrier. Control height and form by pruning; if woody stems jut out, cut them down to ground (new growth fills in quickly). Unlike other mahonias, this one needs acid soil; develops chlorosis (yellow leaves with green veins) in alkaline soil. Regular water.

mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress

  • Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9.
  • Grows 3 feet tall and 312 feet wide with soft textured, narrow, bamboo-like foliage.
  • Thornless.
  • Bright yellow flowers in winter, followed by dark blue berries.
  • Great texture for containers, Asian gardens, and as specimen.
  • Best in part to full shade.
  • Regular water.

chinese mahonia

mahonia fortunei

  • Zones LS, CS; USDA 8-9.
  • Native to China.
  • Grows to 6 feet high, 3 feet wide; stems bear 10 inches., matte green leaves with 7 to 13 spiny-toothed leaflets.
  • Undersurface of leaves is yellowish green, with heavily netted veins.
  • Flowers in short clusters in late summer to early fall; purple-black berries seldom develop.
  • Plant has an unusual stiff charm and is grown for form and foliage, not fruit.
  • Full sun to light shade.
  • Moderate water.

mexican barberry

mahonia gracilis

  • Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9.
  • Native to Mexico.
  • To 3 feet high, 4 feet wide.
  • Glossy leaves have 5 to 13 overlapping leaflets, each about 112 inches long.
  • Foliage is most colorful in full sun: leaves are lime-green when new, darker green in summer, and a lively mix of reds, oranges, yellows, and light green in winter.
  • Bright yellow, very fragrant blossoms in winter.
  • Blue fruit with a powdery sheen.
  • Tolerates extreme heat and poor soils, even hard-packed clay.
  • Needs little or no supplemental water.


mahonia japonica Bealei Group(Mahonia bealei)

  • Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9.
  • Native to China.
  • Grows 1012 feet high and 10 feet wide, with strong pattern of vertical stems, horizontal foliage.
  • Leaves over 1 feet long, divided into 7 to 15 broad, leathery leaflets to 5in.
  • long; leaflets grayish or bluish green above, olive-green below, with spiny-toothed edges.
  • Very fragrant flowers in erect, 3- to 6 inches-long, spikelike clusters at branch ends in earliest spring.
  • Blue berries with a powdery sheen.
  • Distinguished plant against stone, brick, wood, glass.
  • Takes sun in Upper and Middle South; best in part shade elsewhere.
  • Plant in rich soil with ample organic material.
  • Regular water.

mahonia oiwakensis lomariifolia(Mahonia lomariifolia.) BURMESE MAHONIA

  • Zones LS, CS; USDA 8-9.
  • Native to China.
  • Showy plant to 612 feet high and 6 feet wide, with erect stems that branch only slightly.
  • Young plants often have a single, vertical, unbranched stem; with age, plants send up more near-vertical branches from near base.
  • Clustered near ends of these branches are horizontally held leaves to 2 feet long.
  • In outline, leaves look like stiff, crinkly, barbed ferns; each has as many as 47 thick, spiny, glossy, green leaflets arranged symmetrically along both sides of central stem.
  • Flowers in winter or earliest spring grow in foot-long, erect clusters at branch tips, just above uppermost cluster of leaves.
  • Blue fruit has a powdery sheen.
  • Prune stems at varying heights to induce branching.
  • Needs shade at least in afternoon to keep deep green color.
  • Regular water.

mahonia xmedia

  • Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9.
  • Hybrids between Mahonia lomariifolia and Mahonia japonica.
  • Plants bear upright clusters of fragrant flowers in late fall and winter; generally resemble Mahonia oiwakensislomariifolia and require the same conditions.
  • Arthur Menzies grows to 15 feet high and half as wide.
  • Buckland and ‘Charity’ grow to 15 feet high, 12 feet wide; ‘Faith’ reaches 610 feet high and 6 feet wide; ‘Hope’ and ‘Lionel Fortescue’ grow to 6 feet high and wide; ‘Underway’ and ‘Winter Sun’ reach 45 feet high and as wide.

texas mahonia

mahonia swaseyi

  • Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11.
  • Native to Texas and Mexico.
  • Spiny growth to 35 feet tall, 5 feet wide.
  • Leaves are rosy when young, light green in summer, reddish purple in fall and winter.
  • Fragrant yellow spring flowers; bright red berries.
  • Good barrier plant; can be sheared but looks most attractive when allowed to take its natural shape.
  • Best in full sun; tolerates much heat.
  • Provide well-drained soil.
  • Needs little or no supplemental water.

agarita, texas currant

mahonia trifoliolata (Berberis trifoliolata)

  • Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9.
  • Native to Arizona, southern New Mexico, Texas.
  • To 8 feet tall, 6 feet wide.
  • Stiff, upright branches hold leathery, blue-green to gray-green leaves to 3 inches long, each consisting of three spiny-tipped leaflets.
  • Fragrant yellow flowers in spring.
  • Red berries ripen in summer; they make good jelly; also favored by wildlife.
  • Needs good drainage and full sun.
  • Tolerates heat and drought, thriving on little or no supplemental water.

Think Twice about Leatherleaf Mahonia

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on January 25, 2009. Your comments are welcome but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

Leatherleaf is not a fabulous, showstopping shrub. Yet this same plant has special talents that keep it out of the “slate for total annihilation” category. Thinking twice about leatherleaf mahonia is a good exercise in assessing a plant’s suitability in your particular landscape situation.

Hardy, adaptable, hollylike broadleaf evergreen

Mahonia bealei (also called leatherleaf mahonia or Beale’s barberry) is originally from China but has been available to Western gardeners for generations. It’s a medium sized bush that reminds you of holly but with compound leaves borne on upright stems. A coarse textured flowering shrub, it does best in a somewhat shaded location. Mature height for leatherleaf is in the range of 8 to 12 feet. Leatherleaf mahonia is not picky about soil type, rarely suffers from insect pests, and is said to be hardy in zones 6 through 9.

Winter flowering

Winter is when leatherleaf mahonia catches your eye. Notice the new year’s growth as cold weather settles in, when bright-yellowish green buds swell from the tips of the stems as shown above. Each growth point erupts into a cluster of one to two dozen spires of yellow flowers, tiny bright bells above the dark green foliage. If you’re lucky and have a warm spell in midwinter, be sure to step closer and enjoy your first scent of spring. You might even see a brave bee working the flowers on an early nectar gathering mission. Each flower produces a small oval, purple fruit. The strings of purple fruits are reminiscent of grape clusters; some Mahonias have “grape” incorporated in the common name. Birds enjoy those fruits.

Naturalized, not native, in North America

Leatherleaf mahonia was brought to Europe from its home in China in the 1800s. This shrub’s ability to tolerate many sites, and the fact that birds eat the berries, has allowed leatherleaf mahonia to naturalize in parts of the United States. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS database shows this species populating most of the southeastern states. In fact, some states have listed leatherleaf mahonia as an invasive plant or noxious weed, making it ill advised or illegal to plant leatherleaf in those areas. currently shows this Mahonia on prohibited plant lists in Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

In your landscape?

Since this barberry can self sow, you may find yourself gifted with a seedling through natural processes. It’s also available commercially. Should you use leatherleaf mahonia in your landscape? In areas where this plant has not (yet) been found to be invasive, you might want to use this shrub for its unique look. A number of Dave’s Gardeners have given it favorable marks in PlantFiles. Keep these points in mind:

It’s a very stiff prickly bush. That may make it a good choice for a barrier or security planting, as a tough, natural deterrent to passersby or lingerers. Site it carefully. At the least, you’ll want to allow ample distance between your leatherleaf and your sidewalks or deck. It can be maintained easily to a five or six foot width. This bush is NOT to be brushed up against.

It’s a slow narrow grower, tending to few upright stems. This barberry won’t spread widely; left alone, it will have a few stems, each bearing a top hat of large compound leaves. For more branches, and thus most blooms, judiciously prune one or more stems. New growth will emerge just below the cut. Leatherleaf’s slow growth rate makes it very easy to maintain at a desired size.

It can self sow. Although only a few states have listed it as invasive or noxious, one would think there is potential for leatherleaf mahonia to expand its range. A Dave’s Garden user in South Carolina has commented negatively in PlantFiles, attesting to leatherleaf’s persistence in that region. I seriously doubt the Plant Police will raid your yard, but surely we should heed the recommendations of those who study noxious plants as a career and comply with their statutes.

In final analysis, leatherleaf doesn’t seem to be such a bad guy in many places, and can be useful and attractive in its own way. But the world of cultivated and native shrubs is big. Mahonia aquifolium, Oregon grape holly, is a native American relative of leatherleaf.

Why not read Winter Blooming Shrubs: The Short List by Jacqueline Cross for ornamental alternatives to leatherleaf? The Garden In Winter by Larry Rettig suggests many other ideas for winter interest. Or refer to What to Feed Backyard Birds by Marna Towne, so you’ll know how to keep the birds happy in winter without leatherleaf Mahonia. I think that about covers the second (and third and fourth…) thoughts you might have about leatherleaf mahonia. With these linked resources, and more available to you in Dave’s Garden, you should be able to resolve second thoughts on just about anything in your garden.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Resources and credits A helpful website for researching possible invasive plants in North America

USDA NRCS Plants Database- A helpful site for researching plant species in North America

Duke University page about leatherleaf mahonia

Klingaman, Gerald, extension agent retired, University of Arkansas Plant of the Week article, 2004

Virtual Plant Tags- link to a page on leatherleaf mahonia, citing Dirr’s observations

All photos taken by and property of the author.

*If possible, feel free to dmail me and describe what its like to NOT be excited about plants.

Mahonia nervosa

This genus of evergreen shrubs from woodland and rocky areas of the Himalayas, East Asia, and Central and North America is made up of species that are especially useful in shady conditions. They have handsome foliage resembling hollies and racemes or panicles of cup-shaped flowers (usually yellow) followed by purple or black berries that look like tiny grapes. Flowers are sometimes fragrant. Some species are also grown for their deeply fissured bark. Various species are valued as groundcovers or specimen plants, or for use in a shrub border or woodland garden.

Noteworthy CharacteristicsEvergreen, handsome leaves. Fragrant foliage, decorative fruits, interesting bark. Especially useful in shady conditions.

CareMost species prefer full or partial shade, but they will tolerate full sun if moisture is adequate. They need fertile, moist but well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Some species require excellent drainage and sun. Shelter from wind. Prune annually after flowering by removing dead or damaged growth and trimming wayward shoots.

PropagationSow seed outdoors in a seedbed or in pots as soon as ripe or in the fall. Stratify seeds for best germination rates. Root semi-ripe or leaf-bud cuttings from late summer to autumn.

ProblemsRust, leaf spots, galls, scale insects, and whiteflies.

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