Tall Oregon Grape!
Right now, one of the showiest plants in bloom is Tall Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium. Our area is native to 3 species of Mahonia, and Tall Oregon Grape is the most widespread of these. This remarkable evergreen shrub will grow in sun or partial shade, on rocky, sandy or even wet clay soils. If planted in sun, the dark green leaves will take on touches of red in the winter.
The brilliant yellow flowers bloom from mid to late March well into April. They are pleasantly fragrant, and very attractive to both hummingbirds and many pollinators. One of the negatives of planting Oregon Grape might be if you plant it too close to early blooming fruit trees (Japanese Plums, Apricots) that might need those pollinators.
Our other common Mahonia species is Low Oregon Grape, Mahonia nervosa. Low Oregon grape is an understory plant of the forest, often growing with Sword fern. Low Oregon grape blooms later, towards the end of April, and is also loved by hummingbirds and pollinators.
This genus is closely related to barberries (berberis) and share many characteristics with those plants. They lack the thorns of barberries, but do have prickly leaves, which make them unattractive to browsing deer. Other non-native mahonia also have fragrant flowers in winter or early spring. Some of them are quite large growing and architectural in habit, and can be important food sources for both overwintering Anna’s hummingbirds and for bees during the months where little else is in bloom.