Mahonia are evergreen shrubs with very spiky leaves. They are one of the few shrubs which flower in winter, when they produce yellow flowers which are highly attractive to bees which may appear on warmer days. When they go to seed with black or purple berries, they are commonly eaten by birds; particularly Blackbirds.

The plants are best suited to part or full shade locations, and are happy to grow trees where the soil can be on the drier side. This makes them perfect for woodland or wild gardens. If planted in an exposed position, it is preferable to provide more light.

After ten years, the shrub can reach heights of four metres but typically the leaves will only be present at the top of the plant leaving a messy appearance. They can be pruned however in April or May.