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     For several centuries there has been disagreement among botanists about whether there are two distinct genera, Berberis and Mahonia, or just one, Berberis.  Here's the nomenclatural story:

     In 1753 Linnaeus created the Berberis genus; in 1818 Thomas Nuttall created the Mahonia genus.

     In 1849 Asa Gray placed Berberis fendleri, shown elsewhere on this web site, in the Berberis genus and it has remained there.

     In 1859 John Torrey placed the first species below in the Berberis genus, but in 1901 Friedrich Fedde moved it to the Mahonia genus.

     In 1828 John Lindley placed the second species shown below in the Berberis genus, but in 1831 Georg Don moved it to the Mahonia genus.

     The Flora of North America states that although "Mahonia is often recognized in horticultural works,... it is seldom recognized by botanists."  The FNA has eliminated the Mahonia genus and placed all former members in the Berberis genus.

     William Weber's Colorado Flora, Stanley Welsh's Utah Flora, and John Kartesz's The Synthesis of the North American Flora disagree with the FNA, placing one species, Berberis fendleri, in the Berberis genus and the other two species in the Mahonia genus.

     Weber separates the two genera as follows:

     Berberis:  "Leaves simple, deciduous, with marginal teeth or weak spines; stems with branched spines at the base of the leaf clusters; sparingly branched, wand-like shrub".

     Mahonia:  "Leaves compound, evergreen, with stout marginal spines; stems not spiny".

     Welsh separates the two genera as follows:

     Berberis: "Primary leaves modified as spines; foliage leaves simple, aggregated on axillary spurs".

     Mahonia:  "Primary leaves pinnately compound, the leaflets spinose-toothed".

     The name "Mahonia" is for Bernard McMahon, plant nursery owner and friend of Thomas Jefferson.  McMahon was also a friend of Thomas Nuttall who named this genus for him in 1818.  (More biographical information about McMahon.)
    "Berberis" is, according to Weber, from "Berberys", the Arabic name for the fruit. 
Mahonia fremontii

Mahonia fremontii (Barberry)
Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands, woodlands, openings.  Spring.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah, April 14, 2004.

Barberry grows to 10 foot diameter unkempt-appearing bushes that dot the semi-desert sand lands.  It puts on a magnificent flower display, but not all bushes bloom every year.  Fall blooms are not uncommon.  Winter frost-kill is common at our latitude, for Mahonia fremontii prefers warm temperatures throughout the year.

"Fremontii" is for Army General, explorer, and collector John Fremont who inspired many with his adventures in the West.  Fremont discovered this species in 1844 "on the tributaries of the Rio virgin, in southern Utah".  (As quoted in Welsh.)   (More biographical information about Fremont.)

Mahonia fremontii

Mahonia fremontii (Barberry)
Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands, woodlands, openings.  Spring.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah, April 14, 2004.

Holly-shaped, tough, older evergreen leaves contrast with light green leaves, the new spring growth which starts as dusty purple, turns light green with chlorophyll, and then ages to blue-green.

Mahonia fremontii

Mahonia fremontii

Mahonia fremontii (Barberry)
Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands, woodlands, openings.  Spring.
Hunter Canyon, Utah, May 3, 2005.

Golden yellow flowers give way to ripening fruit.

Mahonia fremontii

Mahonia fremontii (Barberry)
Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands, woodlands, openings.  Spring.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah, November 11, 2005.

Fall colors are subdued but quite lovely.

Mahonia repens

Mahonia repensSynonym: Berberis repens.  (Oregon Grape)
Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Foothills, montane, subalpine. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Mesa Verde National Park, near Amphitheater, May 16, 2005.

Although a very small plant, Oregon Grape is conspicuous for many reasons: it often grows alone on warm, barren, rocky hillsides (although it is also at home in moist forests); its holly-like, thick (but brittle) leaves are eye-catching; it is usually evergreen (although the leaves commonly turn red in the fall); its flowers are numerous and bright yellow; its berries are large and blue and yummy.

"Repens" is Latin for "creeping".

Click for a forest view and fall views of Mahonia repens.

Mahonia repens

Mahonia repensSynonym: Berberis repens.  (Oregon Grape)
Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Foothills, montane, subalpine. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Mesa Verde National Park, near Amphitheater, May 16, 2005.

Mahonia repens

Mahonia repensSynonym: Berberis repens.   (Oregon Grape)
Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Foothills, montane, subalpine. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Narraguinnep Natural Area, August 11, 2005.

These berries have several more weeks to ripen to juicy sweetness.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Mahonia fremontii

Range map for Mahonia repens

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