Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Mahonia aquifolium foliage
Mahonia aquifolium (Pursh) Nutt.
Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium, Berberidaceae ) is an evergreen shrub related to the barberry. Some authors submerge Mahonia in the barberry genus, Berberis. The plant is in no way related to grapes, but gets the name from the purple clusters of berries. It is sometimes called Tall Oregon-grape to distinguish it from Creeping Oregon-grape (Mahonia repens) and "Cascade" or Dwarf Oregon-grape (M. nervosa). The name is often left un-hyphenated as Oregon grape, though doing so invites confusion with the true grapes. It also occasionally appears in print as Oregongrape.
Oregon-grape grows to 1-2 m tall. Its leathery leaves resemble holly and the stems and twigs have a thickened, corky appearance. The flowers, borne in late spring, are an attractive yellow.
Oregon-grape is used in landscaping similarly to barberry, as a plant suited for low-maintenance plantings and loose hedges. Oregon-grape is resistant to summer drought, tolerates poor soils, and neither spreads invasively nor creates excessive leaf litter. Its berries attract birds.
The plant is used medicinally by herbalists. The small purplish-black fruits, which are quite tart and contain large seeds, are sometimes used locally mixed with Salal to make jelly. As the leaves of Oregon-grape are holly-like and resist wilting, the foliage is sometimes used by florists for greenery and a small gathering industry has been established in the Northwest.
The inner bark of the larger stems and roots of Oregon-grape yield a yellow dye.
It is the state flower of Oregon.
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