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Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun'

Mahonia x media

This plant truly lives up to its name with bright yellow flowers blooming in the depths of winter. You can find these eye-catching plants in Lock’s Trail.

Vital statistics

Common name
Mahonia 'Winter Sun'
Height & spread
5m x 4m (15ft x 12ft)
Evergreen shrub
Humus-rich, moist, well-drained
Partial shade preferred
Hardy throughout the British Isles


Mahonia is a genus of about 70 species of evergreen shrubs found in woodlands and rocky areas of the Himalaya, East Asia, Central and North America. They are common garden shrubs, grown for their attractive foliage, bright, fragrant flowers, and decorative and edible fruits. The flowers look like yellow lily-of-the-valley and the foliage is dark green and shiny.

The mahonia's blue-black, clustered fruits give rise to its common name of Oregon grape. These acidic fruits can be eaten raw or cooked, but are  rather nice raw, especially when added to muesli or porridge. Unfortunately, they have relatively little flesh and a lot of seeds!

Berberin, present in the roots of mahonia species, has marked antibacterial effects and is used as a bitter tonic. Berberin is also reported to have anti-tumour properties.

Mahonia was named by Thomas Nuttall after an Irish political refugee, Bernard M'Mahon who set to work in America by opening a seed shop in Philidelphia, and published the American Gardener's Calendar in 1806. 

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun'

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun' is a dense, upright, evergreen shrub with leathery, spiny leaves. It is grown for its densely packed racemes of fragrant yellow flowers, which are frost resistant and look especially attractive in the autumn and winter sun.

The name media comes from the word 'intermediate', meaning 'in the middle', or 'between': it is a cross of M. japonica and M. lomariifolia, and 'Winter Sun' was raised by the Slieve Donard Nursery in Northern Ireland.

There are several other cultivars including 'Lionel Fortescue' and 'Charity', both of which have, like 'Winter Sun', been awarded an AGM.


  • Mahonia x media will take full sun but prefers to be in shade or a semi-shaded area. It is best in moist but relatively fertile, humus-rich soil, including chalk soils. Although frost hardy, the young growth may be damaged by late frosts.
  • The shrub does tend to get leggy but can be pruned - large plants can be stooled to about 45cm (18in) and will regenerate well. It is best, though, to prune over a three-year period taking out about a third of growth each year. Pinching out the spent flowering shoots of smaller plants can encourage a more even habit.
  • Mahonia x media is generally pest and disease free.


  • Propagate by leaf bud or semi-ripe cuttings in summer.
  • Take off suckers in spring, pot up and place in a frame until established.
  • Sow seed outdoors in the autumn as soon as it is ripe. This is a hybrid, so plants will probably not come true.


The RHS Woody Plant Committee awarded Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun' an Award of Garden Merit and described it as:

'Medium-sized evergreen shrub of upright growth, with long, spiny, pinnate leaves. Flowers small, bright yellow, fragrant, in clusters of erect racemes.'



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