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PlantFiles: Leatherleaf Mahonia, Beale's Barberry
Mahonia bealei

Family: Berberidaceae (bear-ber-id-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Mahonia (ma-HO-nee-uh) (Info)
Species: bealei (BEEL-lee-eye) (Info)

Synonym:Berberis bealei

3 vendors have this plant for sale.

16 members have or want this plant for trade.


4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)

4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)

Sun Exposure:
Sun to Partial Shade

Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling

Bloom Color:
Bright Yellow

Bloom Time:
Late Winter/Early Spring
Mid Spring

Grown for foliage

Other details:
May be a noxious weed or invasive
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater
This plant is resistant to deer
Provides winter interest

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From softwood cuttings

Seed Collecting:
Allow unblemished fruit to ripen; clean and dry seeds

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14 positives
4 neutrals
1 negative

Gardeners' Notes:

Neutral coriaceous On Mar 25, 2015, coriaceous from ROSLINDALE, MA wrote:

This is an attractive, exotic-looking plant.

Its planting is illegal in Michigan, because it spreads a rust disease.

It has naturalized from Maryland to Florida and Alabama, and its spread has elicited some alarm among those concerned with the preservation of natural areas: bealei 2012 NCR...

Positive Sequoiadendron4 On Mar 25, 2015, Sequoiadendron4 from Lititz, PA (Zone 6b) wrote:

This plant is definitely a fine shrub to have in a shady area of a yard. I planted mine in spring of 2010 and it grew great. The flowers have a slight fragrance and yield blue drupes that are delicious to birds. It's fun to watch them perch on the branches and eat them. In bird droppings, the seeds will volunteer but not even close to an annoying way. A big caution to whoever needs to move a specimen however. It is my experience that these plants do not like to be moved once established. I moved ours in the fall of '13 and, in combination with the harsh winter that year ('13-'14), it had some rough transplant stress. It did flush out new growth though late summer of '14, which was a welcome sight as I thought it might be a goner. It seems it has lost some leaves after yet another harsh winter this year but I'm looking forward to seeing how it does this season. It's leaves are definitely something to be careful around though as they easily puncture skin even beneath clothing.

Neutral Ted_B On Oct 27, 2014, Ted_B from Birmingham, AL (Zone 8a) wrote:

I've done nothing but watch these naturalized intruders grow larger every year with no attention whatsoever from me. That being said, this species is firmly naturalized in the Southeast US, and is declared invasive in this region. I didn't plant these, and some effort would be required to remove them, roots and all.

It's easy to see why this plant has succeeded, as it seems impervious to shade, and tolerates various soils in conditions ranging from dry to boggy. Left unmolested, its towering stalks can reach at least 8ft (2.5m), as witnessed (in amazement) on my own property. Its tough spiny leaves demand careful movements when working around it. The roots are substantial, and bright yellow with berberine. And where the roots are concerned, even younger plants seem to resent root disturbance.

The ripe, powdery blue fruits are sharply tart, although they are claimed to make a good jam ... assuming you get them before the birds do. And because birds are efficient at getting them is why M. bealei can be seen growing in rogue clumps in the deciduous forests. For these reasons, I urge that US residents avoid the deliberate cultivation of M. bealei. If you really want Mahonia in your garden, at least the softer leaved M. aquifolium is a native N. American variety.

Positive einhorn On Jul 13, 2013, einhorn from petersfield
United Kingdom wrote:

Over here in Hampshire UK I have planted a block of three Mahonia japonica. Soil is fertile clay with flint and whole area under and around plants has been heavily mulched with well rotted garden compost. As my garden is large I just can't keep up with the weeding so have spread black Mypex woven polypropylene over whole area. We live over 700ft up and plants grow in sun/semi shade.Plants have established well with good extension growth. Only problem is what I can only describe as blistering of young leaves as they unfurl which actually started before laying the Mypex. The literature seems to indicate the usual culprits, sap sucking insects etc. Not that keen to go down the pesticide route.
Anyone else had similar problems, what was the cause and how did you sort it or did it sort itself naturally?
Many thanks,
Regards, Frank.

Positive gregr18 On Jul 6, 2013, gregr18 from Bridgewater, MA (Zone 6b) wrote:

This Mahonia performs best for me in moist soils that get afternoon shade. If it's allowed to dry out, branches will die off and leave the plant looking kind of dumpy. Full sun also stresses it out, scorching the leaves and causing them to turn yellow and red, then drop. The unusual texture makes for an interesting effect in a shade garden.

Positive skidz On Mar 25, 2013, skidz from Wetumpka, AL wrote:

Spikey leaves are a nice contrast with Fatsia on one side (big soft leaves) and dwarf Yaupon Holly (small leaves) on the other side in my Zone 8 Alabama garden. In a shady spot under tall deciduous trees. Has not been invasive in ten years. Almost no maintenance. Hasn't grown much either, so don't buy a little one. Evergreen in the winter and tough enough for our hot, humid summers.

Positive KanapahaLEW On Mar 25, 2013, KanapahaLEW from Alachua, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:

An excellent plant for part sun/part shade, droughty areas in North Central Florida.

Neutral vanaturalist On Jul 14, 2012, vanaturalist from Lynchburg, VA wrote:

This plant is considered invasive in Mid-Atlantic and Southern states. But it is not the most obnoxious alien by far. The deer will eat the berries/flowers and young soft new growth but, as with Ilex, not the mature stiff, sharp leaves. It grows in dry shade and is evergreen which is very rare for an ornamental here in Virginia. I have seen it spread into local natural areas by seed from the birds most likey and it can form dense patches in the deciduous forest. Doesn't seem to have any pest issues here.

Positive bemille3 On Feb 15, 2010, bemille3 from Leander, TX wrote:

I live just North of Austin, Tx and am in Zone 8A. There have been two problems with the two mahonias we planted (they are going on their third season). One of my things with plants is, especially at first, I rarely baby them. In fact, if possible, the care they get at first borders on neglect. During the first few years the plant is determining what conditions it will be dealing with and I am not alone in the opinion that plants that are not pampered will be generally tougher in the long run. What I describe below I believe to be partially a result of this practice. During the Mahonia's first winter, we got barely any rain. Same with the Fall. This year we got tons of rain and before anything could dry out, another rain would come. The first season: Major fungus problems, although I did not spray at all with fungicide. This wet, cool season: very negligible fungus spots that have just been sprayed now (and we are really now entering spring here) only to contain a potential spread. So the plants have adapted in a huge way. The other problem: sun scorch, and I am not talking about in the winter (i.e. part of the plant awakening and quickly being killed by a hard freeze). These plants get full sun every minute the sun is out and also that which is reflected off of the bright white driveway. However, these plants seem to adapt after a few years such that I am expecting the mahonias to handle the extremity of the sun this year, or at least a little better than they did the first or second. An odd thing, I know (the scorched leaves). The agricultural extension agency around here recommneds them highly as very tough plants for this area. By the way, I have taken pest management and the damage that nearly defoliated the plants in the summer was from the sun. So why the good rating? Well, there really are no other plants that look like these. They look like some kind of plant that should be in Jurrasic Park. The hummingbirds love the flowers, and other birds eat the fruit. Both are pretty. Also, we have had terrible summers here lately (60+days over 100 & drought) to where the deer literally starve to death. And it is easy to see why the deer won't touch these. I planted these for their thorny nature as a secondary feature to a large rose garden that is now pretty well established. Everyone involved kept saying: 'What's the good of these? or, 'What are they supposed to do?' or just generally commenting on how they are ugly or we should get rid of them. Now? Everbody's excieted about them. And-if they hadn't toughened up so well, I would have had to consent to digging them up this year. Thank you Mahonias. You have proven me and yourselves. These are really interesting and beautiful plants. I love them. By the way, there is also a Mahonia called holly grape (Mahonia aquafoliae, I think) that I haven't seen available for a while and haven't been able to grow. Another note, these are entirely evergreen in the Austin Area. We get down in the twenties here and there and rarely below. But the most you will see is a partially red leaf. And they cannot naturalize here. So don't worry about spread by seed. I am not claiming that they cannot become very vigorous and spread although conversely I cannot verify that they will. Also, a nice thing about these plants is they are just not planted that much which for me is always a plus.

Positive JonthanJ On Nov 26, 2009, JonthanJ from Logansport, IN wrote:

We planted one of these at church in 2008, and then got hit with a classic Zone 5 minus 18 degree low over the winter. Siting saved the day. The flower buds failed, but the foliage survived. Spring brought new growth at the branch tips. New flower buds grew rapidly in October. The siting shields the plant from direct sun all through the winter, and allows direct sun on the shrub for only a few hours during growing season days. The key is that the Mahonia is a broadleaf evergreen and should not be subjected to any direct sun when the ground is frozen solid. We hope that milder winters will allow the flowers to bloom.

The slow growth of typically single budded shoots allows us to keep the shrub in bounds over a wide range of desired heights. When a shoot dies or gets too tall, just cut it back to a few inches above the ground. The shorter shoots will appreciate the light, the root system keeps growing.

I got one as a cold greenhouse subject to go with the Bay and the Camellia. Even moderately serious frost will not injure these guys.

Positive ival On Apr 12, 2009, ival from Arlington, TX wrote:

I have grown one specimen of this plant in Arlington, Texas, under high deciduous shade in rather poor, sandy soil, which is now nearly 20 years old. It has stayed healthy, flowering and setting berries every year, but grown very slowly, and is still barely 3 feet tall, with three main stems. We like it enough we planted a second one two years ago, which is also doing well, but growing very slowly. Both are quite drouth and heat tolerant, given sufficient shade and mulch. They appear to have no pests or diseases in our area.

Negative tinabeana On Jun 12, 2008, tinabeana from Greenville, SC (Zone 8a) wrote:

I hadn't seen mahonia before buying our current house, where it has seeded everywhere. The berries are edible to people and animals (sour!), so the birds have done their part to spread this around. There is a speciman at the back of my property that is almost 10 ft. tall, looks very spindley with just a tuft of leather leaves at the top.

I give this a negative because simply based on the number in my yard it is very invasive. It readily self-seeds and the attractive berries means animals will seed it as well. I have multiple mahonia 'stump clumps' in my yard that are anywhere from 2-5 inches across where previous residents have cut the plant down. Trust me, it doesn't work: each of those stump clumps has one or more new plants on it. The few I have managed to dig up have both a tap-like root and a thick horizontal root structure: much like a tree, expect the mahonia root system under the ground to be about the same size of the plant above the ground. Between this root system and the prickley leaves, digging this up is an absolute CHORE! I've managed to dig up 3 out of over 20: I'm starting with the small ones first.

Another con is that my area doesn't get cold enough for the leaves to change quite properly, so the bright reds and yellows mahonia is known for are sporadic at best.

The positives I can give this plant are the beautiful berries (as others have described) and the exceptionally bright yellow color of the root flesh. I haven't tried yet, but I am fairly certain you could make dye or ink out of it. Also, the spikey leaves make it a very good security planting at property lines, in front of windows, etc.

For those that want this plant, I will happily trade full clumps of the over-ripe berries for seeds. Also, I saw it in the Home Depot garden center just this week.

Positive Caroc On May 16, 2008, Caroc from Durham, NC wrote:

We had quite a large 3ft specimen growning on it's side by a creek bed, it was in great shape so we decided to dig it up & try and transplant it to our shady planting bed where we have another Mahonia, only 10 ft away, We did this just a couple of weeks ago & the leaves have all yellowed, we are hoping that it lives and comes back strong. Does anyone know if they are difficult to transplant?

Positive fishrepair On Apr 27, 2007, fishrepair from Worthville, KY (Zone 6b) wrote:

I dug up a start of this bush from my sister in laws large, beautiful, bush, located in Alabama. I dug up the sprout in October, 2006 and kept it over the winter in our green house. It is almost May now and it is doing great. It is green, strong and has many new shoots. I am looking forward to seeing it grow and flourish in my own back yard in Worthville, Kentucky.

Positive murfens On Jul 18, 2006, murfens from Bedford, NY wrote:

I saw this plant in a garden at the Highland Lake Inn near Hendersonville, NC at the end of May - at least I think it was this plant. The cluster of berries almost looked like grapes, with less "ripe" ones looking green and more ripe ones like a deep purple. From a Northerner this plant was unusual and striking, and I assumed it was an ilex (which I am more familiar with).

Positive suncatcheracres On Jan 28, 2004, suncatcheracres from Old Town, FL wrote:

This is another favorite in the Deep South for its evergreen structural presence, very early Spring, fragrant flowers, and big powdery blue berries. At my grandparent's home, now the home of my 97 year old Aunt, in South Georgia, a huge one, planted in the 1950's, grows against a white open-brick-work wall, which emphasizes the deep blue-green color of its leaves. This very old, large plant is growing in the part shade of large oaks, with evergreen Aspidistra and Liriope.

My Southern Living Garden Book says Leatherleaf Mahonia grows to about 10 to 12 feet tall, and I have seen old plants taller than this. My book also says it will grow in the Coastal South, but I haven't seen any yet here in the plant nurseries in Northcentral Florida, zone 8b. But I am sure I will eventually find one.

Positive Petsitterbarb On Jun 22, 2003, Petsitterbarb from Claremore, OK wrote:

I don't own this plant YET, but a client of mine does. It is an awesome looking very unusual plant! Leaves look just like Holly to me, only a little bit larger. The blue berries look JUST like blueberries, only a tad more oval, and they cascade like bunches of grapes. I'm definitely going to try to add this one to my little shade garden, if I can locate one!

Positive rosyposy On Jun 5, 2002, rosyposy wrote:

I love this shrub because it so unusual. Visitors to my garden often think it is a holly at first, but the shape of the leaves just isn't quite right. Then they notice (if it's the right time of year) that is is flowering in February - long stalks of fragrant yellow flowers. In the spring/early summer the blue berries appear, almost the size of a grape. The birds feast. At least in my neighborhood it's a show stopper.

Neutral tiG On Sep 7, 2001, tiG from Newnan, GA (Zone 8a) wrote:

Upright and coarse habit (large stems and leaves).
Annual Growth Rate: less than 12 inches

Leatherleaf Mahonia is a large shrub with
holly-like, bluish leaves and many upright stems. The small
fragrant yellow flowers are produced in large
clusters. These are followed by blue clusters of hanging fruit that are often eaten by birds.
Moist, well-drained soils, requires acid pH. Performs best if given some winter protection.

Specimen, massing, border, best where flower fragrance can be appreciated in the spring.

May become leggy and require pruning. Winter scorch on leaves in colder zones.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

, (2 reports)
Auburn, Alabama
Birmingham, Alabama
Centre, Alabama
Gaylesville, Alabama
Wetumpka, Alabama
East Haddam, Connecticut
Gainesville, Florida
Pinellas Park, Florida
Tampa, Florida
Yulee, Florida
Decatur, Georgia
Elberton, Georgia
Evans, Georgia
Lawrenceville, Georgia
Mcdonough, Georgia
Monroe, Georgia
Logansport, Indiana
Louisville, Kentucky (2 reports)
Taylorsville, Kentucky
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Gray, Louisiana
Millersville, Maryland
Bridgewater, Massachusetts
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Marietta, Mississippi
Waynesboro, Mississippi
Belmar, New Jersey
Brooklyn, New York
Cary, North Carolina
Durham, North Carolina
Raleigh, North Carolina (2 reports)
Thomasville, North Carolina
Cincinnati, Ohio
Claremore, Oklahoma
Lansdowne, Pennsylvania
Lititz, Pennsylvania
Norristown, Pennsylvania
Bluffton, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Conway, South Carolina
Goose Creek, South Carolina
Greenville, South Carolina
Rock Hill, South Carolina
Summerville, South Carolina
Arlington, Tennessee
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Arlington, Texas
Austin, Texas
Cleveland, Texas
Coppell, Texas
Dallas, Texas
Leander, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
Arlington, Virginia (2 reports)
Linden, Virginia
Lynchburg, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia

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