Sunday, March 11, 2012

Agarita (Mahonia Trifoliolata)

Lately when I go to our back woodland to feed the birds, a drift of sweet/spicy scent brings me to a stop.  Bags of seed in hand, I stand and breathe.  No thought, just the breath of beauty.

The perfume floats from an unlikely source--agarita bushes native to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. With prickly leaves and thorny stems, this 3-6 foot sprawling shrub is one of the first plants most people clear when they put a house on a plot that used to be wild. 

I like agarita because it's hardy, evergreen, deer don't eat it and the agarita on our homestead survived without human intervention in last year's driest-12-months in Texas' recorded history.  

Agarita is adaptable too, living in open woods or full sun, in alkaline clay, caliche, limestone and loam, on rocky slopes or cliffs, as long as the site is well-drained. 

In years with rain, small yellow flowers garland the branches, providing nectar for early spring butterflies and bees.  

With a bit more rain in the following months, red berries form, feeding birds and wildlife and people who make jelly from the berries collected in  towels when they shake the branches with a stick.  

At my house, the birds and animals get them all.  And we're all happy about it.

Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.


  1. Hi Kathleen, i think i've seen similarly looking leaves in the islands far north of our country, Batanes. It is not found in the mainland of Luzon though nor the other big islands. But i haven't sensed scent, so maybe just a relative. Agarita or Mahonia trifoliata, oh i will check its relatives. thanks.

  2. That is a lovely plant to have growing in your garden, hardy, pretty flowers and leaves and fragrant as well.
    We have a lovely native plant that grows here, it is almost indestructable, evergreen, creamy coloured fragrant flowers followed by orange berries. Its common name is native daphne and the fragrance is so lovely especially in the warmth of the sun and amazing on a Summers night. :)

  3. I love the Agarita. Those delicate little blooms really contrast with the prickly leaves.

    I know they don't transplant well, but I might just try a small one. There are lots of them around here.

  4. I enjoy how some of my area's ignored but great plants are also similar elsewhere. We have a few of it's larger relative, Algerita (B. hemaetocarpa) for sale, it's evergreen and deer-resistant, but rarely available. Same with your native Agarita.

    Looks like another business opportunity!

  5. Thanks for the botany lesson. They sound like very hardy plants. What's the northern limit of their range?


  6. That is one great plant! I need to find a spot for it. At some point, I'd love to hit you up for your pictures and comments for CTG's plant of the week. Will be in touch!

  7. Love this post! Why would anyone want to remove this. Never mind. Don't answer...what does it smell like? Citrus blossom? jasmine?

  8. This is a pretty tough plant. I saw some during the drought and it never fazed them. Great pictures:)

  9. Anyone have any seeds or small shipable plants? Would LOVE to add this to my Mahonia colelction.

    Thank you,

    Joyce Grigonis

  10. do you know where i can get some Agarita seeds? or if you know the place that they might sell them?


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