Wildflower Wednesday Mystery

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“You can have it if you can identify it.”

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I love a challenge, especially about plant identification and I am a pretty good guesser. It was a small stick of a shrub, sticking out of a plastic grocery bag that held the roots and some soil. The stem was woody and the leaves were bronze, with pointy ends like a holly. But it didn’t really seem holly-like. I took a stab at it, “Some sort of Mahonia?” “Correct. Here you go, happy planting”, was the answer.

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“Oh, thank you so much! I will plant it with the other Mahonias that are growing under the tall pines. They must like it there, I can’t seem to get rid of them, even after cutting them down to the ground and trying to dig out the roots.”

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The above exchange happened several years ago, initiated by my postal carrier, Claude da Mailman. He would leave bags of plants or home made goodies at my front door or even inside the metal box at the street if it wasn’t too hot or too cold, with a little torn corner of an envelope with that name scribbled on it.


He had white hair and a white beard, almost a slimmer Santa Claus type of fellow. I learned that he was very interested in native plants, often being called over to rescue choice specimens when construction was planned. He was very generous and shared large clumps of blue eyed grass, Sisyrinchium albidum, and Spigelia marilandica with me. When he came around the corner of my street, he would chat with my neighbor Mickey if he was out gardening, then come on down to my yard and visit with me, too, if I was outside. I am usually outside.

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He once gave me a large bag of freshly picked figs that had been given to him by another of his mailbox customers just up the street. He had given me cuttings from his fig tree, but they did not survive here. Fig trees were ordered and also bought locally but they are still quite small. Last year we did get to eat two of our own figs. I dream of having bags full of them to share. I did share many plants with Claude, having to press them upon him. I hope they still are growing in his garden or he shared them with others who could use them.

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Back to the subject matter of this post, the passalong Mahonia. It is very different from the larger leaf ones that dot our older neighborhood, planted from the digested berries by gourmet birds dining in the tree limbs above. I have given up trying to remove these, Mahonia bealei, and move the seedlings to out of the way spots for the birds to enjoy. The berries are very beautiful and they flower in winter. If you can’t beat ’em…

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But since Claude shared this smaller leaf specimen, I am assuming it is a native. Does anyone know it? Research leads to it being Mahonia aquifolium. Could it be? I have not seen any berries form in the few years it has been blooming size. Perhaps it needs another shrub for pollination? Whatever it is, it is treasured for the remembrance of a kind friend, who retired a couple of years ago and has not been seen since then. He did not live in this town, but commuted to our post office every work day. His replacement mail carrier is a young fellow, sweet and friendly, but Claude is missed. I hope he is happily spending quality time in his own garden now. He had told me that was his plan.

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Happy Wildflower Wednesday! Please check out the other wildflower presentations over at my dear friend Gail of Clay and Limestone’s place on the fourth Wednesday of each month.

Frances

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28 Responses to Wildflower Wednesday Mystery

  1. Freedom,,,Charles says:

    I found my mahonia at an old homesite,,,,they were all over the lot under the trees,,,I got the add and looked it up on the GSI for that co. contacted the owner who just so happens bought the lot for investment,,didnt really care about the plants,,,the lot was in a historic dist. of a small town,,,he gave me permission and I got two..I love them,,, I love to go to surrounding towns and walk and see older homesteads and take a dip in the past,,,

    What a wonderful story, Charles. Good for you going to the trouble to get permission, too. Seeing plantings on old sites is a dip into the past. I love to see the daffodils flowering here with no building in sight amidst a forest of deciduous trees and imagine how they came to be planted there.
    Frances

  2. Les says:

    i need to get a new mailman (or mailwoman). Mine rarely leaves anything I want.

    I am not sure I would garden without Mahonia. I grow the hybrid ‘Winter Sun’ and it usually starts blooming in December, just as I need something to look forward to about winter. it is virtually carefree.

    I understand, Les. Claude was a jewel in every way. I like our new mailman, too, but he doesn’t seem to be a gardener. I have learned to love the Mahonias and will look into Winter Sun for possible clues, thanks!
    Frances

  3. gail says:

    Oh I do love that Mahonia…It’s a lovely shrub and the bees appreciate the early blooms~Like Les, I have Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ and it looks very like your gift from Claude da Mailman. It has been especially happy with all the rain we’ve had this winter. We have a friendly mail carrier, but, he never leaves gifts. Happy Wildflower Wednesday Frances. xoxoxgail

    Thank you, Gail, and Les. I was hoping to have a lead on solving this mystery of identification. Added: Looking up Winter Sun, sadly, the gift from Claude has a very different form. The flowers are clustered, not spikes like Winter Sun. All the garden is happy with the rain and coolth we have been experiencing. But the gardener is ready to get out there and garden!
    xoxoxo
    Frances

  4. Carol says:

    My mailman only leaves me mail, and bills! Ha! I don’t know much about Mahonia, so can’t help identify yours. Perhaps Claude is reading your blog and he’ll respond with an answer!

    Hi Carol, thanks for reading. I gave Claude my blog card and he said he didn’t have time to read blogs until he retired, so many he will.
    Frances

  5. Lea says:

    Pretty plant!
    Interesting story.
    Happy Wildflower Wednesday!
    Lea
    Lea’s Menagerie

    Thanks Lea. Happy Wildflower Wednesday to you!
    Frances

  6. Lucky you! What a fabulous plant. I’ve never seen it!

    Hi Marian, thanks for stopping by. It is a good plant from a good friend.
    Frances

  7. Love those richly burgundy colored leaves especially with the BAM of the vibrant yellow flower clusters. Wouldn’t it be nice if Claude was a reader of your blog and be reminded of how much he was valued. I have no doubt that you always expressed your sincere appreciation for his generous nature during his years of being your mailman.

    Thanks, Michaele. This is a very fine plant, as were all the ones Claude shared with me, including seeds. My gratitude towards him was, and is truly heartfelt.
    Frances

  8. entwinedlife says:

    I am delivering some plants today to another Garden Blogger… Best way to meet friends!
    I once had a Fed ex driver who loved plants… Lost his battle with cancer… Living out in the boonies… So missed his gentle spirit… Time to get digging! Jayme B

    How sweet of you, Jayme, to share your plants. My neighbor told me that when we share our gardens, the goodness returns back to us times three. I might change that to times ten, or more!
    Frances

  9. What a lovely story about a lovely plant! 🙂 Jack

    Thanks Jack. It is a fond memory, hearing the mail truck drive around our corner.
    Frances

  10. Marcia says:

    What a nice tribute to a mailman.

    And now I know what that volunteer shrub is along the edge of the woods. Mine isn’t bronze but the green variety. I know the neighbors up the lane have one or two so I thought it must be a volunteer. Had considered transplanting it but now will leave it be.

    Hi Marcia, thanks for joining in the conversation here. Your mahonia sounds like M. bealei. It grows readily from the bird eaten berries. It grows all over my neighborhood. I have learned to love it, but would not suggest bringing it into a garden where it is not already growing.
    Frances

  11. I’ve heard Mahonia referred to as an invasive here- certainly shows up uninvited and is impossible to permanently remove. I’ve learned to live with them but I’ve never liked their harsh “attitude”.

    Mahonia bealei is listed as an invasive, Jill, and rightly so. It does have an attitude with those spiky leaves! I have tried to dig it out many times, to no avail. It does get cut to the ground on occasion and that at least slows it down. It does bloom in winter and is evergreen, and the berries are gorgeous and feed the birds, so it is not all bad.
    Frances

  12. Christy says:

    That plant is very pretty! What a nice mailman you had! They sure aren’t like that anywhere I’ve lived. I hope he’s enjoying his retirement and doing some gardening!

    We have been lucky with our mail delivery people over the years in all the states we have lived in. The one in PA, who walked his route, always had candy for my kids. I do hope Claude is living the good gardening life!
    Frances

  13. What a great postal carrier and stories about sharing.

    Thanks Freda. It was delightful to see and chat with Claude every day. The plants were a bonus.
    Frances

  14. Alison says:

    What a great mailman Claude was! That is a really beautiful Mahonia, with those burgundy leaves. How tall is it? I have native Mahonia in my garden, bought at a local nursery, labeled M. repens, but they aren’t very low-growing, which they should be with that name. Their leaves this time of year have a bronze/burgundy tint, but nowhere near as dark as yours. I wonder if mine might actually be M. nervosa.

    Thanks Alison, you have given me some leads to follow. I was counting on someone from your area perhaps knowing what this plant was. Right now, it is about four feet tall by four feet wide. The darker foliage is on the exposed to the sun and cold side of the plant. In the back it is more dark green.
    Frances

  15. Elizabeth McLeod says:

    I’d do anything to have a fig tree. Perhaps I should try planting one this year? Do they require any special care? Cheers and enjoy outside. Say hello to your birds from ours.

    Hi Elizabeth, our birds say hi back to yours! I am still a novice with the fig tree. This one is Chicago Hardy, so should be hardy enough to be grown here. I think most of the old timers have Brown Turkey. They like a more alkaline soil than I can offer, so wood ash has been added to the mulch. It also likes more water than we have in summer, so I oblige.
    Frances

  16. Lona says:

    Mahonia? Grape Holly. I have one that refuses to grow, I think the thing has been two foot for five years now. But maybe it is because I keep moving it. LOL!

  17. Lola says:

    I love your new plant. The berries are pretty. I just planted a fig tree & am waiting for it to leaf out. I hope to see fruit this yr but doubt it.

  18. Barbarapc says:

    I grew one from seed – got a little card with a package of seeds -. It’s about 12 years old and has produced one little kidlet. My stems aren’t as red/maroon as yours. But mine is whacked with cold and they have a tendency to go bronze/brown/dead. The ‘grapes’ aren’t very obvious, in fact I found the new offspring before I found any grapes….. Some mother I am. I like the fact it takes drought and has withstood all sorts of weather.

  19. Lynn Hunt says:

    What a wonderful mailman to bring you such a treat. He knows who appreciates beautiful things, Frances. I hope he is enjoying his own garden.

    No wildflower Wednesday for me because unlike 2012, nothing is blooming yet!

  20. sorticulture says:

    Perhaps Mahonia nervosa?

    Here is a fine gardening article – http://www.finegardening.com/plantguide/mahonia-nervosa-longleaf-oregon-grape.aspx

    Good luck!

  21. It is definately Mahonia, but I can’t identify the bronze leaves on this one. it is a real beauty.

  22. Being of the same employ as your Claude, expect over here we are called Postmen/women – he sound like a very nice postman to have!
    I can’t help you with a specific Mahonia ID but I have a shrub in my garden which is a Mahonia and Berberis hybrid. Mahoberberis – it maybe worth a look at for a possible ID.
    Great blog and a good read – thank you!

  23. I don’t know much about Mahonia, but it’s lovely and so is your story! Plants have special memories and connections with people, don’t they?

  24. Rose says:

    I have no idea what kind of mahonia you have, but what a sweet memory connected to it! I think I’d call it Mahonia Claudius:)

  25. I love the story of your mailman..I love your mailman! I would love to have a mailman like yours…having all kinds of goodies left at my door..it feels like it is how the world should be..
    Ronelle

  26. Mahonia aquifolia – one of our favourite ornamental garden shrubs here in the UK. Yours has a particularly good purple colour to the foliage. I know we can get a purple leaved version but it is hard to get hold of.

  27. Nicole says:

    That is a lovely story and what a truly nice mailman you had in Claude.

  28. Cindy says:

    Now that’s my kind of mailman!

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