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Products > Rhamnus californica 'Leatherleaf'
Rhamnus californica 'Leatherleaf' - Coffeeberry

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Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Shrub
Family: Rhamnaceae (Buckthorns)
Origin: California (U.S.A.)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Greenish White
Bloomtime: Spring
Synonyms: [Frangula californica]
Height: 6-8 feet
Width: 6-8 feet
Exposure: Sun or Shade
Summer Dry: Yes
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: <15 F
May be Poisonous  (More Info): Yes
Rhamnus californica 'Leatherleaf' (Leatherleaf Coffeeberry) - This selection of the California native Coffeeberry is an evergreen shrub that is more compact than the species but can still may grow to a large mound to 8 feet tall and wide though is more often seen to 5 to 6 feet. The 3 inch long leaves borne along reddish stems are a darker green than other cultivars and have margins rolled under, giving it a distinctive leathery look more like that of a Rhododendron. As with the species, the inconspicuous greenish-yellow flowers that are followed by showy berries that are first green then red and finally black when ripe. A hardy fast growing shrub that can grow in most soils, but does best in a sandy soil - more of a challenge in heavier soils and away from the coast. Grows in sun or light shade and is drought tolerant. Cold hardy to 5 F and possibly a bit colder. A great plant for the background of the garden and where a plant is needed that will tolerate both sun and shade. Its dark foliage makes a great foil to lighter green or gray colored plants. This plant introduced by the UC Berkeley Botanic Garden from a selection made by Roger Raiche from Montara Mountain on a northern spur of the Santa Cruz Mountains near San Mateo. For more information see our listing on the species, Rhamnus californica. We also grow the cultivars 'Eve Case' and 'Mound San Bruno'. Recent nomenclatural changes have given rise to a name change for this plant to Frangula californica - we continued to list it as Rhamnus californica until this name has wider recognition. We often get inquiries about whether the berries of Rhamnus californica (or Frangula californica as it is now called) are poisonous. We have grown the species and several cultivars for many years and did not list it as poisonous. It is not listed in Thomas Fuller and Elizabeth McClintock in Poisonous Plants in California, the book we typically rely on for such information, but is does make it onto various poisonous plant lists such as the one included in California Native Plants for the Garden by Carol Bornstein, Dave Fross and Bart O'Brien and on Dr. Ann King Filmer's list on the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences website Safe and Poisonous Garden Plants. While there is some indication that aboriginal Californians may have used the berries as a food source and some suggest the fruit can be used to make a coffee like beverage, a jam or even be eaten raw, the general consensus is that if one eats enough of the berries or they are particularly sensitive, then it could make one sick. Another way to judge this is that, while this plant does come up on poisonous plant lists, it does not come up on any credible edible plant or forage plant lists. Compared to much more toxic plants, it seems clear that Rhamnus californica is not very poisonous, but enough so that we have decided to note on our website that Rhamnus californica be considered a poisonous plant.  The information on this webpage is based on research conducted about this plant in our nursery library, from online sources, as well as from observations made of it as it grows in the nursery in containers, in the nursery's garden and in other gardens where we have observed it growing. We will also incorporate comments received from others and welcome getting feedback from those who may have additional information, particularly if this information includes cultural information that would aid others in growing  Rhamnus californica 'Leatherleaf'.