Mahonia bealei
Common Name: leatherleaf mahonia 
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Berberidaceae
Native Range: Western China
Zone: 7 to 9
Height: 4.00 to 10.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 8.00 feet
Bloom Time: February to April
Bloom Description: Yellow
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Hedge, Naturalize
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Leaf: Evergreen
Attracts: Birds
Fruit: Showy
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Drought

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 7-9 (perhaps Zone 6 where planted in protected locations) where it is easily grown in moist, well-drained soils in part shade (morning sun or sun dappled shade) to full shade. Also tolerates full sun (albeit often with some bleaching of foliage colors), but only in the cooler northern parts of its growing range. Established plants tolerate some soil dryness and drought. Site in locations protected from exposure to strong winds. Plants will spread by suckering. Unless naturalization is desired, suckers should be promptly removed as they appear. Single specimen shrubs may fruit poorly. Grow more than one shrub together for best fruit production. Easily propagated from cuttings or seed.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Mahonia bealei, commonly known as Beale’s barberry or leatherleaf mahonia, is an evergreen shrub with pinnate compound leaves which typically grows in a multi-stemmed clump to 4-10’ tall but occasionally taller. It is native to western China. It is very similar to M. japonica (native to Taiwan). It has been introduced into the southeastern U.S. where it has escaped gardens and naturalized from Maryland and Virginia south to Alabama and Florida. Leathery, pinnate-compound, holly-like leaves (to 12-18" long) grow in horizontal tiers. Each leaf has 5-8 pairs of narrow, stiff, spiny-toothed, oblong to lance-shaped, dark green leaflets (to 4" long) with a broad terminal leaflet extending to as much as 8” long. Fragrant yellow flowers in loose, spreading to pendant racemes (each to 3-6” long), bloom in late winter to early spring (February- April). Flowers are followed by ornamentally-attractive, waxy green fruits which hang in grape-like clusters and mature to blue-black in late spring to early summer. Fruits are attractive to birds.

Mahonia is closely related to Berberis. Some authorities have now lumped many of the plants in the genus Mahonia into the genus Berberis (see GRIN). Many other authorities continue to list Mahonia separately. In the 2009 revision of Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Michael Dirr declined to eliminate Mahonia as a genus by simply stating "I refuse to go there."

Genus name honors Bernard M'Mahon (1775-1816), American horticulturist and author of The American Gardener's Calendar (1806).

Specific epithet probably honors a person named Beale who lived in China in the early to mid-1800s, but it is unclear today as to which Beale deserves the honor. Thomas Chaye Beale, Scottish merchant who became Portuguese Consul to Shanghai in 1851, is a likely candidate according to many historians.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Leaf spots, powdery mildew and rusts may occur. Watch for aphids, scale and whiteflies.

Garden Uses

Best in small groupings in part shade woodland areas. Shrub borders. Foundations. Slopes. Screens. Barrier plants (spiny leaves).