Plant Health Care in Richmond, VA

Oregon grape mystifies as it beautifies

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Oregon grape mystifies as it beautifies

Which is it: Oregon grape, Oregon holly-grape, Oregon grape-holly or Oregongrape? Take your pick, since all these references are acceptable, with or without the dash. But don’t let the names fool you, since the Oregon grape is not exclusive to Oregon, its fruits are not true grapes, and it’s not a holly. Botanically it’s classified in the Mahonia genus within the (barberry) family. Horticulturally it’s a dynamic, bold-textured evergreen with year-round interest.

“Berries, flowers, interesting leaves and seasonal color are hard to find all in one plant, but the Oregon grape has them all,” said Claire Terry, horticulturist at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. “It’s an exotic-looking shrub that has some amazing features.”

Depending on the variety, the Oregon grape’s size ranges from creeping groundcovers and compact dwarfs to tall uprights that can reach 10 feet high at maturity. The canelike branches support long compound leaves that can grow to 12 inches in length, each with rows of smaller leaflets along a central rib. Similar to hollies (hence the confusion), the leaves are leathery, spiny and quite prickly. A bright, glossy green when they emerge, they gradually darken to a rich burgundy-bronze by winter, adding depth to nature’s color palette.

The Oregon grape provides another burst of color through its distinctive flowers. Winter to early spring (depending on the variety, zone and weather), whirls of cheerful yellow flowers accent the shrub with eye-catching beauty and light fragrance.

In the months to come, berries form in grapelike clusters, eventually ripening to a dusty blue. Though sour and seedy, they’re a welcome treat for birds and other wildlife.

“The stalks make unusual arrangements, too,” Terry said. “When you cut them, they’re mustard-yellow inside — an amazing color.” For these reasons and more, the Oregon grape is a popular addition to landscapes, property borders and natural areas in Zones 5 to 9.

To encourage new growth or to control size, the Oregon grape can be pruned after its fruits are finished and after the first frost. The wood is exceptionally hard, so a handsaw or good lopper is recommended.

First, remove about one-third of the shrub’s old, woody canes by cutting them to the ground. Trim remaining stems just above the leaf joint (where the leaf attaches to the stem) at different heights if your preference is a well-rounded form. You also can leave growth at the shrub’s base if a bushy look is desired.

Oregon grape spreads by underground runners as well as seeds dropped by wildlife, so it’s best to locate the shrub where fillers are needed or hardscapes contain it.

Lynn Kirk is public relations writer for Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

Written by vaphc

January 6, 2013 at 8:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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