Toyon: Red and Green California Christmas Holly

Toyon or California Christmas Holly Berry

This is Toyon, also called California Christmas Berry or Christmas Holly or Heteromeles arbutifolia. These beautiful shrubs are prized for their bright red berries and deep green leaves. This is a fan-tab-ulous alternative to regular Holly (Ilex) when you need something drought-tolerant for your garden AND a little something for the birds and the bees too. These evergreen shrubs grows to about 25 feet tall and almost as wide. They make good screens for dry gardens, but you can also trim them into multi-trunked trees or standards. They have white flowers which are attractive to bees, but the show stopper comes just in time for Yule when the bright red berries ripen against the green leaves.

Toyon is native to the California coast down to Baja and into the Sierra Nevada foothills. They do well in USDA Zone 7 – 10 or Sunset Zones 5-9, 14-24.

California Christmas Holly
A row of Toyon or California Christmas Holly Berry

At one point California Holly was a very, very popular table decoration and so many were cut and dug up, a law was passed to stop people from picking them in the wild. It is also the shrub that gave Hollywood its name. Some of the species native to the Channel Islands are endangered or threatened.

Did you know right now is a perfect time to get ready for spring planting? It’s only a few weeks away, so get ready to take advantage of our rainy season. Many of our local California Native Plant nurseries have safely propagated endangered plants in stock, so you can brighten up your winter garden and help save a species.

However, you should also be aware that Heteromeles arbutifolia has been identified by the USDA as a host plant for Sudden Oak Death. I would not plant it near oaks and would read the USDA sheet for more info.

On a more positive note, Toyon is known by the US Forest Service to be resistant to fire mortality. Meaning it seems to survive brush fires well, and will resprout all over the plant after a fire. Read more at our pals at the USDA Forest Service.

Toyon berries have been eaten by the local Chumash, Tongva and Tataviam Native Americans either cooked, mashed and mixed with water as a beverage or dried and baked into pancakes. A tea from the leaves was also used as a stomach remedy.

This row of Toyon is in the Sepulveda Dam Basin along Woodley. Our thanks to the designers of this lovely arrangement. It makes a beautiful California greeting.