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Mahonia trifoliolata - (Moric.)Fedde.

Mexican Barberry

Author(Moric.)Fedde. Botanical references11, 200, 270
FamilyBerberidaceae GenusMahonia
SynonymsBerberis trifoliolata - Moricand.
Known HazardsNone known
RangeSouth-western N. America - Texas, Arizona, Mexico.
HabitatDry calcareous soils[67]. Slopes and flats in grassland, shrubland, and sometimes open woodland at elevations of 0 - 2000 metres[270].
Edibility Ratingapple iconapple iconapple icon 3 (1-5) Medicinal Ratingapple iconapple icon 2 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics

icon of man icon of shrub An evergreen Shrub growing to 2m.
It is hardy to zone 7 and is frost tender. It is in leaf all year, in flower from April to May. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees. It is noted for attracting wildlife.

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It requires dry or moist soil.


Woodland Garden; Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Hedge;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit.

Edible Uses: Coffee.

Fruit - raw or cooked[2, 3, 85]. An acid flavour but nice, especially when added to porridges or muesli[K]. A subtle tart flavour, it is pleasant to eat raw[183]. Unfortunately there is relatively little flesh and a lot of seeds[K]. The fruit is also used to make preserves[149, 183]. The roasted seed is a coffee substitute[149].

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Antibacterial; Antitumor; Tonic.

Berberine, universally present in rhizomes of Mahonia species, has marked antibacterial effects[218] and is used as a bitter tonic[181, 213]. Since it is not appreciably absorbed by the body, it is used orally in the treatment of various enteric infections, especially bacterial dysentery[218]. It should not be used with Glycyrrhiza species (Liquorice) because this nullifies the effects of the berberine[218]. Berberine has also shown antitumour activity[218]. The root and root bark are best harvested in the autumn[213].

Other Uses

Dye; Hedge; Ink; Tannin.

A yellow dye is obtained from the inner bark of the stem and roots[46, 61, 149, 181]. It is green according to another report[168]. An ink is made from the wood[46, 61]. Dark green, violet and dark blue-purple dyes are obtained from the fruit[168]. A green dye is obtained from the leaves[168]. Makes a good hedge[149]. The wood is a source of tannin[46].

Cultivation details

Unlike most members of the genus, this species requires a dry, perfectly drained position in full sun, a gritty slightly acid soil is best[200]. It does well in a hot, dry position[167]. Succeeds in a good garden soil[11]. The form in general cultivation in Britain (M. trifoliolata glauca. I.M.Johnst.) comes from the southern part of its range[67], it is only hardy on a sunny wall in this country or as a free-standing shrub in the very mildest areas[3, 11]. The young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts. A good bee plant[149]. Resistant to honey fungus[88].


Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a greenhouse[78]. It usually germinates in the spring[K]. 'Green' seed (harvested when the embryo has fully developed but before the seed case has dried) should be sown as soon as it is harvested and germinates within 6 weeks[K]. Stored seed should be sown as soon as possible in late winter or spring. 3 weeks cold stratification will improve its germination, which should take place in 3 - 6 months at 10c. Prick out the seedlings when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out in late spring or early summer and consider giving them some protection from the cold for their next winter. Division of suckers in spring[78]. Whilst they can be placed direct into their permanent positions, better results are achieved if they are potted up and placed in a frame until established[11]. Leaf cuttings in the autumn.



[K] Ken Fern
Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[2] Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World. Dover Publications 1972 ISBN 0-486-20459-6
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.

[3] Simmons. A. E. Growing Unusual Fruit. David and Charles 1972 ISBN 0-7153-5531-7
A very readable book with information on about 100 species that can be grown in Britain (some in greenhouses) and details on how to grow and use them.

[11] Bean. W. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement. Murray 1981
A classic with a wealth of information on the plants, but poor on pictures.

[46] Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants. Weinheim 1959
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.

[61] Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man. Constable 1974 ISBN 0094579202
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.

[67] Ahrendt. Berberis and Mahonia. Journal of the Linnean Society, 57 1961
Not for the casual reader, it lists all the known species in these two genera together with botanic descriptions and other relevant details for the botanist.

[78] Sheat. W. G. Propagation of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers. MacMillan and Co 1948
A bit dated but a good book on propagation techniques with specific details for a wide range of plants.

[85] Harrington. H. D. Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains. University of New Mexico Press 1967 ISBN 0-8623-0343-9
A superb book. Very readable, it gives the results of the authors experiments with native edible plants.

[88] RHS. The Garden. Volume 112. Royal Horticultural Society 1987
Snippets of information from the magazine of the RHS. In particular, there are articles on plants that are resistant to honey fungus, oriental vegetables, Cimicifuga spp, Passiflora species and Cucurbits.

[149] Vines. R. A. Trees of Central Texas. University of Texas Press 1987 ISBN 0-292-78958-3
Fairly readable, it gives details of habitats and some of the uses of trees growing in Texas.

[167] Holliday. I. and Hill. R. A Field Guide to Australian Trees. Frederick Muller Ltd. 1974 ISBN 0-85179-627-3
A well illustrated and very readable book, but it does not contain much information for the plant project.

[168] Grae. I. Nature's Colors - Dyes from Plants. MacMillan Publishing Co. New York. 1974 ISBN 0-02-544950-8
A very good and readable book on dyeing.

[181] Pesman. M. W. Meet Flora Mexicana. Dale S. King. Arizona. 1962
Very readable flora but rather lacking botanically. A few notes on useful plants.

[183] Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants. Kampong Publications 1990 ISBN 0-9628087-0-9
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.

[200] Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992. MacMillan Press 1992 ISBN 0-333-47494-5
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.

[213] Weiner. M. A. Earth Medicine, Earth Food. Ballantine Books 1980 ISBN 0-449-90589-6
A nice book to read though it is difficult to look up individual plants since the book is divided into separate sections dealing with the different medicinal uses plus a section on edible plants. Common names are used instead of botanical.

[218] Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China Reference Publications, Inc. 1985 ISBN 0-917256-20-4
Details of over 1,200 medicinal plants of China and brief details of their uses. Often includes an analysis, or at least a list of constituents. Heavy going if you are not into the subject.

[270] Flora of N. America 0
An on-line version of the flora with an excellent description of the plant including a brief mention of plant uses.



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