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Heteromeles arbutifolia 1.jpg
Toyon bush in habitat
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Rosaceae[1]
Subfamily: Amygdaloideae[2]
Tribe: Maleae
Subtribe: Malinae
Genus: Heteromeles
Species: H. arbutifolia
Binomial name
Heteromeles arbutifolia
(Lindl.) M.Roem.[3]
Heteromeles arbutifolia range map.jpg
Natural range

Heteromeles salicifolia
Photinia arbutifolia Lindl.

Heteromeles arbutifolia (/ˌhɛtrˈmlz ɑːrˌbjuːtˈfliə/;[4] more commonly /hɛtəˈrɒməlz/ by Californian botanists), commonly known as toyon, is a common perennial shrub native to extreme southwest Oregon,[citation needed] California and Baja California.

Toyon is a prominent component of the coastal sage scrub plant community, and is a part of drought-adapted chaparral and mixed oak woodland habitats.[5] It is also known by the common names Christmas berry and California holly. Accordingly, "the abundance of this species in the hills above Los Angeles... gave rise to the name Hollywood."[6]

It is the sole species of Heteromeles, but is closely related to the Asian genus Photinia.


Toyon typically grows from 2–5 m (rarely up to 10 m in shaded conditions) and has a rounded to irregular top. Its leaves are evergreen, alternate, sharply toothed, have short petioles, and are 5–10 cm in length and 2–4 cm wide. In the early summer it produces small white flowers 6–10 mm diameter in dense terminal corymbs.

The five petals are rounded. The fruit is a small pome,[7] 5–10 mm across, bright red and berry-like, produced in large quantities, maturing in the fall and persisting well into the winter.


Toyon can be grown in domestic gardens in well-drained soil, and is cultivated as an ornamental plant as far north as Southern England. It can survive temperatures as low as -12°C.[citation needed] In winter, the bright red pomes (which birds often eat voraciously) are showy.

Like many other genera in the Rosaceae tribe Maleae, toyon includes some cultivars that are susceptible to fireblight.[8] It survives on little water, making it suitable for xeriscape gardening, and is less of a fire hazard than some chaparral plants.[citation needed]

Wildlife value

They are visited by butterflies, and have a mild, hawthorn-like scent. The fruit are consumed by birds, including mockingbirds, American robins, and cedar waxwings. Mammals including coyotes and bears also eat and disperse the pomes.

Traditional use

The pomes provided food for local Native American tribes, such as the Chumash, Tongva, and Tataviam. The pomes also can be made into a jelly. Native Americans also made a tea from the leaves as a stomach remedy. Most were dried and stored, then later cooked into porridge or pancakes.[citation needed]

Later settlers added sugar to make custard and wine.[citation needed]


Toyon pomes are acidic and astringent, and contain a small amount of cyanogenic glycosides, which break down into hydrocyanic acid on digestion. This is removed by mild cooking.[citation needed]

Some pomes, though mealy, astringent and acid when raw, were eaten fresh, or mashed into water to make a beverage.


In the 1920s, collecting toyon branches for Christmas became so popular in Los Angeles that the State of California passed a law forbidding collecting on public land or on any land not owned by the person picking the plant without the landowner's written permission (CA Penal Code § 384a).[9][10]

Toyon was adopted as the official native plant of the city of Los Angeles by the LA City Council on April 17, 2012.[11]

See also


  1. Germplasm Resources Information Network, 1910
  2. Potter, D., et al. (2007). Phylogeny and classification of Rosaceae. Plant Systematics and Evolution. 266(1–2): 5–43. [Referring to the subfamily by the name "Spiraeoideae"]
  3. Jepson Flora Project, 1993
  4. Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  5. C.M. Hogan, 2008
  6. Rundel, Philip W; Gustafson, Robert (2005). Introduction to the Plant Life of Southern California: Coast to Foothills. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 103. ISBN 0-520-24199-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Heteromeles arbutifolia, in Jepson Flora Project". Regents of the University of California. Retrieved 14 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Austin Hagan, Edward Sikora, William Gazaway, Nancy Kokalis- Burelle, 2004. Fire Blight on Fruit Trees and Woody Ornamentals, Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities
  9. McKINNEY, JOHN (December 6, 1986). "California Holly Adds Color to Trail Up Mt. Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. p. 12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. California Penal Code Section 384a
  11. "Item No. (28)" (PDF). Journal/Council Proceedings. LA City Council. Retrieved 23 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


External links