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Products > Berberis oiwakensis
Berberis oiwakensis - Chinese Holly
Image of Berberis oiwakensis
[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Shrub
Family: Berberidaceae (Barberries)
Origin: Burma (Asia)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Yellow
Bloomtime: Winter/Spring
Synonyms: [B. o. ssp. lomariifolia, Mahonia lomariifolia]
Height: 6-10 feet
Width: 3-5 feet
Exposure: Light Shade/Part Sun
Irrigation (H2O Info): Medium Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 20-25° F
Berberis oiwakensis (Chinese Holly) - An upright evergreen shrub with vertical mostly unbranched cane-like stems reaching to 6-10+ feet tall by about 5 feet wide with 1 to 2 foot long pinnately divided leaves of leathery 1 ˝ to 3 ˝ inch long sharply toothed leaflets that are dark green on the upper surface and lighter below. The lightly scented yellow flowers are in 3 to 8 inch long dense terminal clusters that appear in late fall through early spring, and are then followed by decorative powdery blue berries, which are favored by birds.

Plant in coastal sun or in shade – best color when shaded from hot afternoon sun and given regular to occasional irrigation. Considered to be hardy for short durations down to 10 to 15 degrees F. This upright shrub is an attractive and interesting plant for the garden even when not in bloom, but it is quite dramatic looking when flowering. The leaves that drop are a bit prickly, so probably not best near a pool, children play areas or other locations where people might walk barefoot.

Berberis oiwakensis is native to the region between Yunnan, Sichuan, northern Burma and east to Taiwan where it grows in broad-leaved forests, thickets, forest margins and slopes between 2000 and 12,000 feet. The name for the genus comes from the Arabic name for the barberry fruit but this plant was long listed as a species of Mahonia, a name coined by the English botanist Thomas Nuttall, who lived and botanized in America much of the first half of the 19th century, to honor Philadelphia horticulturist Bernard McMahon (1775-1816), who introduced the type plant, Mahonia aquifolium (now also a Berberis species) from material collected by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, a collection which McMahon curated. The specific epithet most familiar in horticulture was lomariifolia, which comes from the combination of the Latin word 'folium', meaning "leaf" and Lomaria, a name for a genus of ferns (now Blechnum) in reference to this plant's resemblance to this fern.

Though this species was long known by the name Mahonia lomariifolia, a name published by the Japanese botanist Hisayoshi Takeda in Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh in 1917 and was thought to occur only in mainland China, a similar species, Mahonia oiwakensis from Taiwan, was described in 1916 by another Japanese botanist, Bunzô Hayata. The name references a township called Oiwake (or Oiwake Musha), a name used while the Japanese occupied the island and it was called Formosa (1895-1945) but it is now called Ren’ai Township Nantou County of modern day Taiwan. The name meant "the divergence point of the road". Recently these two species have been determined to be conspecific with Hayata's older name (by one year) taking precedence. British botanist Julian Mark Hugh Shaw recognized the two plants as subspecies of Mahonia oiwakensis, calling the mainland China one M. oiwakensis subspecies lomariifolia, but this name does not seems widely accepted and in most (but not all) major nomenclatural databases the plant is called Berberis oiwakensis. We now too list it this way, but will always think of this plant as Mahonia lomariifolia.

It was first introduced into cultivation in England from seeds collected near Tengyueh, Yunnan, in 1931 and was listed as a rare plant in the 1954 edition of the Sunset Western Garden Book, but with the note that it was "destined to become more available" and this was proven true as was evident of established plantings in gardens in the Pasadena area by the early 1960s. It was awarded the prestigious Royal Horticultural Societies Award of Garden Merit in 1993 and we have grown this great plant since 1981. 

This information about Berberis oiwakensis displayed on this web page is based on research we have conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations we have made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens visited, as well how our crops have performed in containers in the nursery field. Where appropriate, we will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share cultural information that would aid others in growing this plant.