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<i> Mahonia nevinii</i> : Nevin mahonia : Drought-resistant evergreen

Theodore Payne, nurseryman and landscape architect, was taken with California native plants enough to move to Los Angeles in 1893 from England (he died in 1963). Here, he catalogued and cultivated more than 400 native species.

In 1920, he introduced into cultivation Mahonia nevinii, which is now believed to be extinct in its natural habitat--the washes of the San Fernando Valley. But the shrub adapts well to cultivation, even accepting summer waterings, and it is a good addition to Southern California gardens.

Arching branches spring from the ground to make a dense shrub that lends itself nicely for use as an untrimmed hedge or background plant, growing as tall as 10 feet. Spiny, holly-like leaves are a matte blue-gray on the upper sides and a paler gray underneath; new growth is reddish.

Loose clusters of buttercup-yellow flowers bloom along the long branches in early spring but turn to red berries in summer and fall, attracting birds. According to Melanie Baer, manager of the Theodore Payne Foundation, established in 1961, a tart jelly can be made from the berries. Local Indians used the flowers to make a yellow dye and the berries to make a maroon dye.

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The young shrubs look ugly growing in nursery containers, as is true of most native species. But do not let that deter you. The sight of the long branches coming out from the pot, says Baer, “does not reflect the beauty of the plant.” It should be planted in full sun or half shade in dry sandy soil.

A visit to the specimen garden of the Theodore Payne Foundation (10459 Tuxford St., Sun Valley) will yield a vision of how native plants grow. Mahonia nevinii will be sold at the foundation’s Fall Plant Sale on Nov. 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. A plant list can be ordered over the telephone; call (818) 768-1802.


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