Scientific names: Mahonia aquifolium and Mahonia haematocarpa
Plant Family: Berberidaceae – Barberry
Common name: Oregon grape-holly and Red barberry
By Janice Tucker
Deck the halls with boughs of Mahonia!
Um, shouldn’t it be “holly”, not “Mahonia”? Well, since we’re pretty hard-pressed to find a holly in Santa Fe, the Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape-holly) and the Mahonia haematocarpa (Red barberry) are good substitutes for decking halls even though the Mahonia is in the Berberidaceae (Barberry) family not the Aquifoliaceae (Holly) family. The species aquifolium is the Roman name for prickly-leaved holly and the species haematocarpa means “blood-red fruit”, referring to its red berries. So either species would certainly qualify for holiday decor when holly is not locally available.
Native to eastern Asia, the Himalayas, North America and Central America, the Mahonia genus is made up of 70 species of evergreen shrubs. Species that grow best in Santa Fe are native to the western and southwestern portions of the United States, southwestern Canada and northwestern Mexico.
The main branches of both of the featured Mahonia are un-branched, rigid and upright, with each branch bearing a multitude of spiny-tipped, odd-pinnately compound leaves. The young, reddish-brown, leaf stems soften to an ash-gray as the plant ages. The M. aquifolim’s leaves are a leathery, glossy green, while the M. haematocarpa’s leaves are more of a matte, gray-green color.