Oregon State Flower - Oregon Grape

Majonia aquifolium, also known as tall Oregon grape, is an evergreen shrub that grows to 8 feet tall. In the home landscape, the shrub is prized for its clusters of small, sunny yellow flowers, an appreciation which led to the plant being named the official flower of the state of Oregon.

Facts

Once a member of the Berberis genus, this barberry relative was moved to the Majonia genus, confusing horticulturists and casual gardeners. It is sometimes still listed in the Berberis genus. Oregon grape is a small, upright shrub that hails from a natural habitat that includes most areas of Oregon, from sea level to the Cascades, and thrives in rocky, arid habitats. Oregon grape blooms in spring with bright yellow flowers that give way to grape-like clusters of red or purple berries.

History

In 1890, the members of the Oregon Horticultural Society took it upon themselves to nominate a suitable flower to become the state’s official floral emblem. Although they came up with several choices, they couldn’t come to an agreement on which one was the best. Nominations included the Washington lily, bearded gaillardia, Oregon grape, madrone and wake-robin. It took the curator of the Oregon Historical Society throwing his weight behind the Oregon grape, two years later, to bring the members of the horticultural society to a consensus. In 1899, the Oregon Legislature made the choice of the Oregon grape official.

Cultivation

Oregon grape, a common landscape ornamental within the state of Oregon, grows best when planted in a full-sun location. Soil should be kept consistently moist, especially during hot weather. A 3-inch layer of mulch spread on the soil beneath the shrub helps insulate the soil and reduces moisture evaporation. An older, overgrown Oregon grape shrub can be cut back to within 1 foot of the soil. The best time to do this is late winter. A 10-10-10 fertilizer should be provided in spring. The potassium in the fertilizer is especially needed by the shrub to ward off fungal infections.

Uses

Native American tribes and early colonists used the Oregon grape’s bark as a yellow dye. The bark and the berries were used to concoct various medicines to treat liver disease, eye problems and gall bladder troubles. The Oregon grape shrub contains an alkaloid called berberine that today’s herbal medicine specialists use for a number of remedies and as a replacement for goldenseal. The plant's berries are tasty and provide sustenance to elk, bears and moose. Oregonians use the berries to make Oregon grape jelly.

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