If you’re experiencing a bit of gloominess from holiday withdrawals, planting a toyon in your backyard will keep the holiday cheer year round. The bright red berries of the Heteromeles arbutifolia very much resemble the holly referenced in holiday carols. In fact, it’s nicknamed “Christmas berry” and “California Holly.”
Commonly known as toyon, this perennial shrub is native to California and prominent along the state’s coast and chaparral areas. It can grow large and unwieldy, surpassing 8 feet tall, but it can also be maintained as a smaller shrub or trained into small trees; and works well as a large screening plant. While they are most commonly identified by the red berries, toyon shrubs bloom small, white flowers in dense bunches. The berries mature in the fall and last through winter and are quite popular among wildlife including mockingbirds, robins, coyotes and even bears. It’s important to note these are not safe for human consumption as they contain cyanide compounds that can be harmful.
Like most native plants, the toyon is drought tolerant, and can survive on normal rainfall with little to no additional watering. Plant in full sun to partial shade and provide a deep watering occasionally during spring and summer. This deep-rooted plant o can be used in erosion control to help stabilize slopes once established. There are some reports that it is somewhat fire resistant.
Fun fact: The city of Hollywood is rumored to be named for the prominent presence of this shrub.
To learn more about growing and caring for your toyon shrub, click here.