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Mahonia fremontii (Torr.) Fedde

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Mahonia fremontii (Torr.) Fedde

By Karen Albins; Native Plants Class 2003

Common Names: Holly-grape, Barberry, Berbero, Palo Amarillo, Algerita, Fremont’s Mahonia

Family: Berberidaceae

Synonymy: Berberis fremontii (Torr. and Epple.)

Etymology: The generic name , Mahonia, for Bernard McMahon, American horticulturist, (1775-1819) and the specific epithet fremontii for (4)

Growth form: Shrub to 10 feet in height (1,3)


Stems: more or less dimorphic with elongate primary and short or somewhat elongate axillary shoots. Bark of second-year stems light brown or grayish purple, glabrous. (1)

Leaves: Dark greyish/green, pinnately compound, 3-7 leaflets, leaflet blades thick and rigid; surfaces abaxially dull, terminal leaflet stalked (sessile in a few leaves), lateral leaflet blades oblong to ovate or elliptic, 1-3-veined from base, base obtuse or truncate, margins undulate or crispate, toothed, each with 2-5 teeth. (1)

Inflorescence/floweres: yellow floweres to 1 inch in width, 6 petals, in clusters of 3-9.

Fruits: Berries dark blue, slightly glaucous, spheric, 6-8 mm, juicy, solid, growing in clusters. (1,2,3)

Similar species: Berberis higginsae six speciies of Berberis in Arizona (2)

Life history: Perennial, evergreen (1,2,3)

Native/introduced: Native to southern California (3)

Phenology: Spring blooming, April-July (1,3)

Distribution: Slopes and flats in desert grass land, piñon-juniper, and pine woodlands, California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado, 4,000-7,000 feet. (1,2,3)


Hopi use it medicinally to heal gums, also use wood for crafts and roots for yellow dye. Berries used for jams and jellies. (1) The Apache Indians use it for ceremonial purposes. Contains drug berberine. Berberis fremontii is susceptible to infection by Puccinia graminis (2)

1. Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 7+ vols. New York and Oxford.

2. USDA, NRCS. 2002. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 ( National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

3. Epple, A. A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona, 1995. Globe Pequot Press, Connecticut

4. Gledhill, D. The Names of Plants, 3rd eddition. Cambridge University Press, 2002

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