An erect shrub 8 to 15 ft high and almost as much in width. Leaves with mostly seventeen to twenty-one leaflets, the lowermost pair small, roundish, and inserted at the base of the petiole. Leaflets (other than the basal pair) ovate or ovate-lanceolate, 21⁄2 to 41⁄2 in. long, I to 11⁄2 in. wide, acuminately tapered at the apex, rounded to broad cuneate at the base, with two or three spine-teeth on the upper margin, three to four on the lower, rich green and slightly glossy above, yellowish green beneath, the principal veins impressed above, prominent beneath. Racemes terminal, very numerous (up to twenty or so in each cluster), 10 to 14 in. long, erect or spreading, many-flowered, but not densely so; bracts leathery, broad-lanceolate or oblong-lanceolate, obtuse, about 1⁄4 in. long; pedicels 1⁄4 to 3⁄8 in. long. Flowers lemon-yellow; innermost sepals oblong-oval, rounded at the apex, 5⁄16 in. or slightly more long; petals six, oval, deeply notched, slightly shorter than the inner sepals. Connective of stamens truncate at the apex.
‘Charity’ was one of three plants selected by Sir Eric Savill from a line of seedlings of M. lomariifolia growing in the nursery of Messrs L. R. Russell of Windlesham, Surrey. These had heen procured in 1950-1 from the Slieve Donard Nursery Company, Newcastle, Co. Down, who at that time had over 1,000 young plants in 21⁄2 in. pots (J. L. Russell in Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 94 (1969), pp. 150-151).
There can be no doubt that the pollen-parent of ‘Charity’ was M. japonica, to which it is much nearer in its botanical characters than it is to the seed-parent. But the influence of M. lomariifolia shows in the more numerous leaflets, with their greener colouring and impressed veins, and in the erect habit. The flowers are soft yellow, as in M. japonica, but of a more vivid shade.
‘Charity’ is one of the finest of evergreen shrubs, and all the more valuable for flowering in the dullest season of the year (mainly November and December). The racemes develop in succession, and only those that are fully expanded suffer damage by frost; the plant itself is hardy. ‘Charity’ received a Preliminary Commendation on 5 November 1957, an Award of Merit on 27 January 1959, and a First Class Certificate on 27 November 1962. The original plant, which grows in the Savill Gardens, Windsor Great Park, is 14 ft high and 12 ft wide (1971).
Seedlings have been raised from ‘Charity’ in the gardens of Windsor Great Park, of which the most notable is ‘Hope’, with flowers of a beautiful soft, bright yellow, densely set on the rachis. This received a First Class Certificate in 1966. Another is ‘Faith’, which is nearer to M. lomariifolia in habit and foliage, but with more softly coloured flowers. A third generation has been raised at Windsor, but so far none of these seedlings has been named, though the average quality is high. An interesting feature of these F.2 and F.3 seedlings is that the racemes are frequently branched.
Three other clones in this group must be mentioned. Among the seedlings of M. lomariifolia raised by the Slieve Donard Nursery Company (see above) another hybrid was found, among those retained by the nursery, with more erect racemes than in ‘Charity’. This has been named ‘Winter Sun’. The other two are the result of a deliberate cross between M. lomariifolia (seed-parent) and M. japonica, made by Lionel Fortescue of Buckland Monachorum, Devon. Some 200 seedlings were raised from this cross, of which five were retained. Of these five, one proved to be very much better than the others and has been named ‘Buckland’. This has an inflorescence up to 27 in. across, composed of thirteen or fourteen main racemes, which are numerously branched as in the Windsor seedlings mentioned above; the flowers have some of the fragrance of M. japonica. Another of these hybrid seedlings, given by Mr Fortescue to the Savill Gardens, has proved to be an outstanding mahonia, bearing dense sheaves of erect, much-branched racemes up to 16 in. long, with fragrant flowers. This has been named ‘Lionel Fortescue’.
M. × media. – This name has been proposed as the collective designation for hybrids between M. japonica and M. lomariifolia, including second-generation seedlings and back-crosses. ‘Charity’ and the other clones mentioned above would therefore belong to it. This name is due to be validated shortly.