Mahonia is a large genus of evergreen shrubs, although only a handful of species are well suited to Florida landscapes. But if you’re looking for a drought tolerant, shade-tolerant shrub then you’ll want to consider a Mahonia. These plants provide year-round textual interest, yellow flowers during winter when most of the landscape is devoid of color, and bright blue-purple fruits in spring.
‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia (M. eurybracteata) The Soft Caress cultivar seems to be everyone’s new favorite Mahonia. The narrow, thread-like leaflets lack sharp spines like other Mahonia species, yet still offer great texture in the garden. Growing 3 feet tall and wide, this plant produces bright yellow flowers that are attractive to bees.
Fortune’s Mahonia (M. fortunei) Suitable for north and central Florida, this species reaches 3-5 feet tall and wide. Although it has a fern-like appearance, the narrow, green leaflets are a bit spiny.
Leatherleaf Mahonia (M. bealei) Growing best in north Florida, this species reaches 5-10 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide. Large, pointed green leaves turn a dark, blue-green color in full shade. Its powder blue, grape-like berry clusters provide food for birds. Being a very stiff, prickly bush, careful placement in the landscape is recommended. This shrub is not one you want to brush up against! Another consideration is that while not currently considered invasive in Florida, it has reportedly caused problems in other southern states.
Oregon grapeholly (M. aquifolium) This Oregon native is suited to north Florida (zone 8). With holly-like leaves, distinct yellow flowers, and blue fruits, this plant has much to offer in the landscape.
Photo credits: Alicia Lamborn