Mystery Flora: Pretentions of Grapeness

Let’s do something seasonal, shall we? These flowers that seem to want to be grapes were blooming at Juanita Bay middle of last February. You’re probably going to tell me they’re some sort of horrid invasive thingy.

Mystery Flower I

Mystery Flower I

Just bizarre, aren’t they? Leaves look a bit like holly, sorta-kinda, and then you get these tight tentacles of odd green flowers, which for all I know aren’t proper flowers at all, because sometimes leaves or bracts evolve to imitate flowers, but aren’t, and this is one of the reasons why biology bothers me. It does odd things.

Mystery Flower II

Mystery Flower II

I don’t mean bothered in a bad way. I used to sneer at biology long ago, but now, when it’s not getting in the way of my rocks, I quite like it. Fascinating stuff. I used to be able to rattle off all sorts of facts about the evolution of trees and leaves and flowers, but it’s been a bit since I did that research and I’m rusty. Leaves. Those are fascinating things. Perhaps I’ll dig out the old research and do up a little dissertation on those someday – you’d like it. We could throw flowers in as well, although oddly enough, I don’t find those half as interesting as I do leaves. I love looking at flowers better, and they make amazing photographs. But leaves are where it’s at.

Mystery Flower III

Mystery Flower III

See? Leaves. Those leaves are saying something important. Damned if I can remember what it is. So, um, yeah, focus on the flowers. Forget the leaves for now. Unless, of course, you know why they evolved to look the way they do, in which case, say on! But don’t forget to tell us what the plant is. Bizarre leaves, odd flowers – it may not be flashy, but it’s definitely interesting.


  1. flowerchild says

    My guess for the mystery plant is Berberis nervosa. Synonym is Mahonia nervosa. It’s the Cascade barberry which also shows up in the species list for Juanita Bay Park.

  2. says

    That’s Oregon Grape, Mahonia sp. There are two native varieties, a low bush and a tall, if straggly shrub. Beautiful yellow flowers, early in the season, purple, super-grape berries at the end of summer. They’re edible, if not as sweet as grapes.

    And they grow wild all over the Pacific Northwest, in shady spots, mainly.

  3. Trebuchet says

    I really need to get up at the crack of dawn so I can get in first. I did at least figure it was going to be Oregon Grape just from the post title. In my experience it’s often found growing with salal, another native shrub with edible, if not very sweet, berries.

  4. butchpansy says

    Exotic and beautiful Mahonia bealei. M. nervosa has yellow-gold flowers, and longer, darker, more numerous leaflets. It’s well adapted, but not terribley invasive.

    • butchpansy says

      Oh, and M. aquifoliium also has truly yellow flowers, much darker, thinner leaflets, and is bigger overall. Be on the lookout for the magnificent, wickedly thorny, M. lomariifolia, and its hybrids. My favorites of the genus are the Southern, small-leaved, droughty Californians: M. nevinii. Their sweet fragrance is ravishing. Don’t get me started on the other wondful yellow-woods: Berberis! The ubiquitous Nandina is another cousin.