J. C. Raulston was an early and vocal admirer of the genus Mahonia, distributing plants and trialing new species and selections for years before he passed away. The last plants J. C. planted at the JCRA were a group of hybrid Mahonia seedlings from Yucca Do nursery to evaluate. Now NC State University plant breeder Tom Ranney and his team have released Mahonia 'J.C. Raulston' named in honor of the Arboretum's founder.
The genus Mahonia is comprised of about 45 to 70 species and hybrids depending on the interpretation of the genus and its separation from the very closely related Berberis. In fact, many taxonomists argue that all Mahonia should be included with the barberries. Mahonias are noted for their typically stiff, evergreen, pinnate foliage with (3)5-21 leaflets. Flowers are typically borne between early fall and spring depending on the species, often in late winter when few other plants are flowering. In most species, the flowers are yellow to gold occasionally with red or orange. Fruit color is usually blue-black often with a lighter waxy bloom coating the fruit.
Mahonia species are native to North and Central America, Asia, and the Himalayas. Most species will grow in full sun to part shade and are quite tolerant to soil type preferring adequate drainage especially the species from the Southwest and Mexico. Mahonias usually have a cane-like growth habit with stems that grow erect and have a whorl of foliage at the tips but little or no branching on the stems. Plants can be allowed to grow tall or canes can be selectively pruned back to control height.
Manonia 'J. C. Raulston' is a hybrid between the western U.S. selection M. aquifolium 'Golden Abundance' and the rare Mexican species M. lanceolata. The resulting plant is a medium-sized shrub with plumes of brilliant gold, fragrant flowers in late winter. Plants are hardy to zone 6 thanks to their northwestern mother while receiving their extremely showy plumes, to 12” long, from their south of the border father. Plants are highly infertile so don't expect fruits to form.
The plant commemorates both J. C.'s love for this showy genus of flowering shrubs and his love of the Mexican flora where he traveled to collect plants to trial at the Arboretum. Mahonia 'J.C. Raulston' is not readily available yet but we expect this plant will have a great future and should appear in garden centers in the coming years. Look for small plants in the Lath House later this spring at the JCRA.