Plant of the Week: Winter Sun Mahonia

Photo by Friends of the High Line

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ is small- to medium-sized evergreen shrub capable of growing 10 feet tall and five feet wide. It becomes a prized specimen when it blooms in the late fall or early winter, producing fragrant yellow flowers. These inflorescences develop into clusters of waxy blue berries eaten by many bird species. Mahonia has pinnately compound leaves with spiny dark green leaflets and a whorled branch arrangement.

Mahonia species are often referred to as Oregon grape-holly. This common name comes from the Pacific Northwest native Mahonia aquifolium, and while the genus superficially resembles hollies (Ilex sp.) they are not closely related. Mahonia belongs to the barberry family, Berberidaceae.

Mahonia × media is an interspecific hybrid, its parent species are Mahonia lomariifolia and Mahonia japonica, both of which are native to Taiwan and China. First selected by Slieve Donard Nursery in Ireland around 1966, the ‘Winter Sun’ cultivar was chosen for having a compact, upright growth habit with more fragrant flowers.

Mahonia x media prefers part shade but will tolerate full sun if adequately watered. It thrives in most soil types and, once established, will be drought tolerant. Given sufficient protection from winter winds, Mahonia can be grown in USDA zones five through nine.


You can see the Winter Sun Mahonia in the High Line’s Chelsea Thicket, between West 20th Street and West 22th Street.

Download our December bloom list.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line’s most important gardening projects – become a member of Friends of the High Line today!

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