Oregon Grape

DSCN0166I’ve lived at my current house for four years, and it wasn’t until last week that I finally learned what the “holly” in the backyard really was. This “holly” has been growing unfettered for at least four years and had grown horizontally along a 10-foot section of fence. I have cut down about 75% of it, mostly the horizontal parts, but it still stands about four feet wide and 10 feet tall.

An internet search for “holly with yellow flowers” quickly turned up this site, which incidentally looks like a great site to identify native plants by appearance. My holly bush, pictured below, is actually a tall Oregon grape, a native plant that goes by the scientific name Mahonia aquifolium.

Having taken a keen interest in propagating salal lately, I found the presence of a fully grown berry-producing bush in my own yard rather exciting. The Oregon grape produces purple fruits like red wine grapes or Concord grapes. Other foragers of Oregon grapes have told me they have very large seeds, so they aren’t great for snacking; they apparently also lack sweetness. Consequently, they’re probably best used in baking, cooking, making jam, or making wine. The Oregon grape also has medicinal uses.

Oregon grape plants will start forming berries in April, May, or June, depending on the weather. The above photo shows berry development in late May 2011. In March and April, look for yellow flowers on holly-like bushes to identify plants to investigate in late summer for harvesting. Check out the WNPS site on Oregon grape for more pictures.

Harvest location note

Though I don’t know how much they’ll produce, being rather young and small bushes, several Oregon grapes were planted along the Burke-Gilman Trail between Gasworks and I-5 in spring 2011.

(Hard-copy references: I also referred to Doug Benoliel’s Northwest Foraging (2011) while writing this entry.)