Barry Fugatt: Oregon grape holly a historical garden favorite
BY BARRY FUGATT Garden World
Saturday, February 09, 2013
2/09/13 at 5:23 AM
I enjoy fiction, but I love history. That likely explains my fascination with plants that are intertwined in the history of our nation.
Oregon grape holly, Mahonia aquifolium, is such a plant.
When I was a boy, I was utterly captivated by historical accounts of the Lewis and Clark expedition, a fantastic journey of discovery launched from just outside St. Louis in the summer of 1804.
Thomas Jefferson authorized the expedition following the purchase of the vast, unexplored Louisiana Territory. Jefferson chose his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, an intelligent man and seasoned frontiersman, to lead the expedition. Lewis selected William Clark, a noted draftsman and mapmaker, to be his co-captain.
The two men, along with a band of helpers, made their way up the Missouri River to present day Three Forks, Mont., and finally on to the mighty Columbia River that empties into the Pacific.
Not generally known is that Jefferson wanted more than a mapping of the area and a report of its indigenous people. He also wanted botanical information on native plants of the area. He was, after all, a devoted gardener. His beloved Monticello plantation was home to a diverse plant collection.
Lewis and Clark obliged the president. Of the 172 new plants they collected along the Columbia River Basin, one (Oregon grape holly) eventually became a garden favorite of a young nation. And it's highly valued in gardens to this day.
Oregon grape holly is neither a grape nor a holly. But its fruit does resemble grapes, and its foliage does resemble that of some hollies. This tough and beautiful shrub is native along the coast of British Columbia to the northern coast of California.
In late winter, bright yellow flowers open at the tips of slender branches. And by early summer, bluish grape-like clusters of berries are formed.
Oregon grape holly is a broadleaf evergreen shrub growing 5 to 6 feet tall. It has virtually no insect or disease problems, it's hardy as far north as Chicago, and it has excellent drought tolerance. It tolerates full sun, but it's better suited to partial shade.
Oregon grape holly is a cane-forming multi-stem shrub. Every two to three years it's wise to remove one-third of the oldest canes at ground level. This rejuvenates the plant and encourages new canes to form at the base.
I rarely walk past Oregon grape holly without thinking of Lewis and Clark. Their two-year trek across the American West must have been one heck of an adventure. And what a great plant they introduced to American gardeners.
Original Print Headline: Historical holly now a favorite
Barry Fugatt is director of horticulture at the Tulsa Garden Center/Linnaeus Teaching Garden. He can be reached at 918-746-5125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oregon grape holly is a tough and beautiful shrub native to the Pacific Northwest coast. Courtesy