Posted by gerryweitz
Toyon Christmas Berry – The California Holly
Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), a native California plant, is our version of the holly and is commonly called “Christmas Berry” or “California Holly.” The red berries grow in the winter and are similar to holly berries. Toyon typically is found in the foothills, canyons, chaparral and riparian environments of Southern California. It grows 6-12 ft. tall with sprays of white/cream color, five petal flowers. Although the leaves of the Toyon are sharply toothed, they are not as prickly as the traditional holly and the leaves are a leathery evergreen, rather than smooth and shiny like the holly.
The Toyon sprouts readily after fires and is a shelter for local and migrating birds that enjoy eating its small “apples.” Toyon berries were boiled by Native Americans and then roasted underground for 2 to 3 days. The bark was used as a tea for medicinal purposes to cure stomachaches.
In the early 1900’s, collecting Toyon branches with berries was a popular Christmas decoration. The berries were also used for making wine, however, they contain small amounts of cyanogenic glycosides which are removed by cooking. Due to excessive collection during this time period, the Toyon was almost wiped out. As a result, a law was passed in the 1920’s forbidding collection of the Toyon on public land.
Because of its popularity, in the low hills north of Los Angeles, the city of Hollywood was named in honor of this “California Holly” shrub. Toyon is drought adaptive and is available at many nurseries that carry native plants. It is often used in landscapes and makes a wonderful addition to natural gardens.
By Donna Walker
Hearts Pest Management
Schoenherr, Allan A. 1991. A Natural History of California. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Reader’s Digest. 1982. North American Wildlife. Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader’s Digest Association.
Farnsworth, Kahanah. 2005. A Taste of Nature. Benton Harbor. Michigan: Patterson Printing.
Tagged: Conservation and Nature