Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 863 Mahonia fortunei

Common Names: Chinese mahonia, Fortune's mahonia, holly grape Family: Berberidaceae (barberry Family)

Chinese mahonia
Chinese mahonia is a beautiful compact shrub for shady places.


Chinese mahonia is a dense, compact, multistemmed, evergreen shrub that gets 4-6' tall. It has pinnately compound fernlike leaves with 7-13 slender leaflets. The leaflets are dull matte green above and yellowish green beneath. Each leaflet is about 3-5" long and less than an inch wide, and the margins have 6-10 soft, flexible spines. The whole leaf is about 8-14" long. The flowers, appearing in autumn, are lemon yellow and clustered in erect, cylindrical racemes, 2-3" long. The berries, which rarely develop in cultivation, are purplish black with a waxy grayish bloom.


Mahonia fortunei is native to China.


Light: Chinese mahonia tolerates shade to full sun. It does best in partial shade in zones 9 and 10, and full sun in zones 7 and 8. Moisture: Chinese mahonia is moderately drought tolerant. Established plants will not need supplemental watering in the eastern US. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 10. In zone 7, Chinese mahonia usually needs winter protection and may freeze to the ground and recover slowly the following year. Propagation: Chinese mahonia can be propagated from seed, by separating suckers, or by rooting semi-hard tip cuttings taken in summer.


Chinese mahonia is a compact, graceful little shrub that stays in its space and doesn't crowd its neighbors. Its fernlike evergreen foliage and dense structure make it an attractive accent or specimen. Use it in a mixed hedge and it may never need pruning. Use it in a shady little corner or as a foundation plant on the shady side of a building. With age, particularly in zones 9 and 10, Chinese mahonia can become loose and sprawling and probably will need to be pruned to maintain its compact form. Chinese mahonia also can be grown as a containerized house plant. This mahonia lacks the stiff and sharp leaf spines of other species in the genus.


There are about 70 species in the genus Mahonia, named for the nineteenth century American horticulturist, Bernard McMahon. The Englishman, Robert Fortune, first introduced this species to the horticultural world in 1846. Oregon grapeholly (M. aquifolium) and leatherleaf mahonia(M. bealei ) are similar species widely in cultivation. The barberries (genus Berberis), and heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) also are in the barberry family.

Steve Christman 11/17/00

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Mahonia species profiled on Floridata:

Mahonia bealei

( leatherleaf mahonia )

Mahonia fortunei

( Chinese mahonia, Fortune's mahonia, holly grape )

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