Evergreen, glossy, dark green leaves are spiky and become deeply purple/red in winter. Clusters of yellow flowers appear from late autumn to spring followed by purple/black berries in summer and autumn. The stamen of the flowers spring inwards when touched. The woody stems are deeply fissured on the outside and yellow on the inside.
What to use it for,
Good in beds and borders (if placed at the back of a border it will shine through with yellow flowers when other plants have died down) and would be particularly suited to a woodland setting. Its statuesque appearance makes it a good focal point. The berries make it a useful addition to wildlife gardens.
As it requires little looking after and is drought resistant, it is good for a low maintenance garden.
How to look after it
Requires very little care as it is hardy and drought tolerant. Pruning is only needed to keep it neat (see below).
How to prune it
Prune in spring, once it has flowered. Stems which are too long, or which have become bare at the bottom, can be cut back down to a strong shoot, otherwise little pruning is required.
Neglected shrubs can be renovated by cutting the whole plant back to a strong framework of stems which are 30-60cm long.
How to propagate it
Semi-ripe cuttings can be taken from midsummer to autumn; take leaf-bud cuttings with two or more nodes (the nodes on mahonia plants are quite close together), make a wound on one side of the stem about 1cm long and reduce the leaf to 2 or 3 pairs of leaflets. Put them in cutting compost and apply bottom heat of around 15 to 20°C. Alternatively, take hardwood cuttings in winter. Plants will flower from cuttings in three years.
Seeds can be collected from the berries when they are ripe (from early summer). Clean them thoroughly before sowing them. Mahonias often cross-pollinate, so while the resulting plants make not come true to type, you might get something you like anyway! Cultivars are unlikely to come true from seed.
Other useful information
Mahonia x media is a hybrid between M. lomariifolia and M. japonica developed in the mid 20th century.
The genus Mahonia was so named in 1818 to commemorate the late Bernard McMahon, an Irish-born nurseryman who settled in Philadelphia in the late 1700s.