Berberis Species, Leatherleaf Mahonia, Beale's Barberry

Berberis bealei

Family: Berberidaceae (bear-ber-id-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Berberis (BUR-bur-is) (Info)
Species: bealei (BEEL-lee-eye) (Info)
Synonym:Mahonia bealei



Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Sun to Partial Shade


Grown for foliage



Provides Winter Interest

This plant is resistant to deer

Foliage Color:



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)

Where to Grow:

Unknown - Tell us


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

Bloom Color:

Bright Yellow

Bloom Characteristics:

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

Bloom Size:

Unknown - Tell us

Bloom Time:

Late Winter/Early Spring

Mid Spring

Other details:

May be a noxious weed or invasive

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


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

Noblesville, 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 (2 reports)

Leander, Texas

San Antonio, Texas

Arlington, Virginia (2 reports)

Linden, Virginia

Lynchburg, Virginia

Richmond, Virginia

show all

Gardeners' Notes:


On Dec 23, 2015, Gignomai wrote:

I grew this plant in my Taneytown, MD garden and looked forward to the blossoms and especially the beautiful fruits annually. Am trying it again in Noblesville, IN where it seems to be marginal. There were flowers last winter, but no fruit. I see the flowers developing again this year. We will see what happens if the mild weather pattern persists.


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.


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 ... read more


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

This plant is listed as an invasive species in the southeastern U.S. Those who ordinarily harvest the roots of endangered species (e.g. Hydrastis, Xanthorhiza, etc.) for berberine would be serving us all by harvesting M. bealei instead (see my photo of the roots).

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 naturalized on my own property. Some effort is required to remove large individuals.

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 on my own property. Its rigid, spiny... read more


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 o... read more


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 n... read more


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 ... read more


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.


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 bot... read more


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?


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.


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).


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 eve... read more


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!


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.


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.