5 Feb

Evergreen tri-lobed leaves of Agarita.

Algerita (also, Agarita). Mahonia trifoliolata.

This small to medium sized evergreen shrub is of the Barberry (holly) family. It is drought and heat tolerant, often found nestled under taller shrubs and trees in arroyos and in desert scrub chaparral. The stiff silvery-green and tri-lobed leaves have spiny tips, and the tiny but aromatic yellow flowers grow in clusters.

Stands of agarita provide good cover and shelter for quail and other small mammals. dThe small red berries produced in mid to late spring are favorite food for birds, deer and small mammals. The fruits contain a slightly sweet and sour juice, good for making jams, jellies, and even pies. When pressed and sieved,  juice from the berries can also be used to produce an adgarita wine, or it makes a sweet tart refreshing drink.

Every part of the plant has been used for medicinal purposes, food and dyes. Berberine,  present in rhizomes of most Mahonia species, has antibacterial effects and is used as a bitter tonic. Since it is not appreciably absorbed by the body, it is used orally in the treatment of various enteric infections, especially bacterial dysentery. Root extracts were used to dye buckskins and basketry yellow. Interestingly, the roots provided a yellow dye that was used as one hue of color-coded parachutes during World War II.

Seedlings grow readily from seed, and this shrub makes an attractive addition to xeriscaped gardens. Agarita is suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil.  It also prefers full sunlight, but can often be found mingled in the understory of other taller shrubs.

Mahonia trifoliata (agarita)



One Response to “Agarita”

  1. Debbie Dickie February 6, 2014 at 7:17 am #

    Love it! Mahonia is easy to identify by the roots…..they will be bright yellow, especially when they have a large amt of berberine. The roots can also be made into a decoction and used as a wash for eczema or psoriasis. It works extremely well for lots of folks. Mahonia aquafolium is what grows where I live.

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