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What Is the State Flower of Oregon? History & Facts

Mahonia Aquifolium

The state flower of Oregon is the Oregon grape. Despite its name, this plant is not a grape. It is a shrub that produces spherical yellow flowers and a dark blue berry. The plant is common throughout the Pacific Northwest, especially west of the Cascade Mountains. The Oregon grape has been the official state flower of Oregon since 1899.  What exactly is an Oregon grape? It is not a plant that many people outside of Oregon are familiar with. Are they actual grapes? How did Oregon land the Oregon grape as its state flower?

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Oregon Grape Facts

oregon grape
Image By: petrovichlili, Shutterstock
Scientific name Mahonia aquifolium
Family Berberidaceae

The Oregon grape is a member of the Berberidaceae family, also known as the barberry family. The plant grows into a shrubby bush that produces flowers in the spring and berries in the summer. The flowers are bright yellow and grow in thick clusters on the plant during the springtime. The flowers are spherical when closed and have a unique shape when they open up. Bees and other pollinators like the flowers of the Oregon grape, and the yellow color provides a striking contrast to the greenery of the leaves.

The berries are extremely tart and often contain large seeds. They are not great for eating raw, but they can be dried, turned into jelly, or used in a wine. Natives in the area have a history of using barberries for a variety of different purposes, including medicinal.

The leaves of the Oregon grape are thick, waxy, and dark green. Many people compare the leaves of the Oregon grape to that of a holly plant. A common name for the Oregon grape is the holly-leaved barberry plant which tells you all you need to know. These plants are drought resistant, and they rarely wilt. The sturdy leaves and rich green color make them a solid base for many floral arrangements in the Pacific Northwest.

oregon grape
Image Credit: Elen Ga, Shutterstock

How The Flower Was Chosen

In 1892, the Oregon Horticultural Society met for its annual convention. The meeting likely took place in Corvallis at the campus of Oregon State University, which still houses the modern chapter of the society today. The members gathered to make arguments for what the official state flower of Oregon should be.

Multiple plants were chosen and presented at the convention. The Oregon grape was debated alongside bearded gaillardia, Washington lily, wake robin, and madrone. In the end, the Oregon grape was chosen and officially nominated by the Oregon Horticultural Society to be the state flower of Oregon. But that only gave it an unofficial designation.

The Oregon grape was the unofficial state flower for nearly seven years. It was not until 1899 that the state legislature took up the issue to make the flower official. The state legislature passed a bill that codified the Oregon grape as the official state flower of Oregon. The state flower has remained the same ever since. The Oregon grape has been the official state flower of Oregon for over 120 years.

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Despite the name, the Oregon grape is not a grape. It is a barberry plant. The berries do look like grapes to the untrained eye. The flowering plant has been the state flower since 1899, and in the spring, it produces thick, beautiful blooms that are very eye-catching. The Oregon grape grows well in western Oregon, where it can be found in large numbers depending on the environment.  The berries are very bitter, and many consider them to be inedible. However, perhaps a true Oregonian can learn to love the unique taste of the Oregon grape.

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Featured Image Credit: shalom3, Shutterstock

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