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Prunus ilicifolia

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Title: Prunus ilicifolia  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Chaparral, Prunus, Ceranemota fasciata, Prunus subcordata, Sphinx perelegans
Collection: Butterfly Food Plants, Desert Fruit, Drought-Tolerant Trees, Flora of Baja California, Flora of Baja California Sur, Flora of California, Garden Plants of North America, Natural History of the California Chaparral and Woodlands, Natural History of the California Coast Ranges, Natural History of the Channel Islands of California, Natural History of the Mojave Desert, Natural History of the Peninsular Ranges, Natural History of the San Francisco Bay Area, Natural History of the Santa Monica Mountains, Natural History of the Transverse Ranges, Plants Described in 1839, Prunus, Trees of Baja California, Trees of California, Trees of Mediterranean Climate
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Prunus ilicifolia

Prunus ilicifolia
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Rosaceae
Genus: Prunus
Species: P. ilicifolia
Binomial name
Prunus ilicifolia
(Arn.) Walp. 1842
Natural range of Prunus ilicifolia (var. ilicifolia green; var. occidentalis blue)
  • Cerasus ilicifolia Nutt. ex Hook. & Arn. 1839
  • Laurocerasus ilicifolia (Nutt. ex Hook. & Arn.) M.Roem.
  • Lauro-cerasus ilicifolia (Nutt. ex Hook. & Arn.) M.Roem.

Prunus ilicifolia (Common names: "hollyleaf cherry",[3] "evergreen cherry";[4] "islay" - Salinan Native American[5]) It is native to the chaparral areas of coastal California (from Mendocino County to San Diego County), Baja California, and Baja California Sur.[4][6] as well as the desert chaparral areas of the Mojave desert.[7][8]

Prunus ilicifolia is an evergreen shrub[3] to tree, producing edible cherries, with shiny and spiny toothed leaves[3] similar in appearance to those of holly. This resemblance is the source of both the common name "holly-leaved cherry" and the scientific epithet "ilicifolia" (Ilex-leaved). It grows 8 to 30 feet (240-900 cm) tall, with thick, alternate leaves 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5.0 cm) in length.[3] It has small white flowers growing in clusters, similar in appearance to most members of the rose family, Rosaceae, flowering from March to May.[3] The flowers are terminal on small stalks, with the youngest at the cluster center. The purple to black fruit is sweet,with a very thick pulp around a large single stone (drupe).[3]

The plant is prized for cultivation, showy and easily grown from seed, and has been cultivated for centuries as a food source, and tolerates twice yearly pruning when often used as a hedge.[3] The plant likes full sun, loose open soil (porous), and tolerates drought conditions well, but needs regular watering when young.[3] Bees are attracted to it.[3]

Native Americans fermented the fruit into an intoxicating drink.[3] "Prunus" comes from the old Latin for "plum". "Ilici - folia means "holly like - leaves".[3] This is the only species of the genus Prunus native to the Santa Monica Mountains that divide the Los Angeles basin from the San Fernando Valley, California.[3]


  • Description 1
    • Subspecies 1.1
  • Distribution, habitat, and ecology 2
    • Regeneration and seedlings 2.1
      • Butterflies 2.1.1
  • Cultivation 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Prunus ilicifolia flowers

It is an evergreen shrub[3] or small tree approaching 15 meters (50 feet) in height,[9] with dense, hard leaves[3] (sclerophyllous foliage). The leaves are 1.6–12 cm (0.64-4.8 inches) long with a 4–25 mm (0.16-1.00 inch) petiole[9] and spiny margins, somewhat resembling those of the holly. The leaves are dark green when mature and generally shiny on top, and have a smell resembling almonds when crushed. The flowers are small (1–5 mm), white, produced on racemes in the spring. The fruit is a cherry 12–25 mm diameter, edible[3] and sweet, but contains little flesh surrounding the smooth seed.[9][10][11]


There are two subspecies:[12][13][14]

Distribution, habitat, and ecology

Prunus ilicifolia is native to California chaparral and foothill woodlands along the Coast Ranges below 1,600 m.[9] Its distribution extends from Baja Californi Suea along the California coast in the Coast Ranges,[9] as well as into the desert chaparral areas of the Mojave desert. In chaparral communities, it tends to inhabit north-facing slopes, erosion channels, or other moist, cool sites.[4]

It is a persistent member of chaparral communities, being slow-growing but long-lived; common chaparral flora associates are toyon, western poison-oak and coffeeberry.[15] In the absence of fire, P. ilicifolia will outlive or outshade surrounding vegetation, making room for seedlings. Eventually, it will form extensive stands codominated by scrub oak.[4]

Regeneration and seedlings

Although it will resprout from the stump after fires, the seeds are not fire-adapted like those of many other chaparral plants.[16] Instead, it relies on the natural death of surrounding vegetation during long periods of fire-free conditions to make room for its seedlings.[4]

The seeds are also reported to require sunlight to germinate.[16] However, near 100% germination rates have been achieved with wild-collected seed buried completely in pots with a peatlite mix.[17]


The caterpillars of the pale swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) feed on this and other members of the riparian woodland plant community.[14]


Prunus ilicifolia is used in California native plants and wildlife gardens, and drought-tolerant sustainable landscaping.


  1. ^ Nutt. ex Hook. & ArnCerasus ilicifoliaThe Plant List,
  2. ^ (Nutt. ex Hook. & Arn.) D. Dietr.Prunus ilicifoliaTropicos,
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Flowering Plants of the Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal & Chaparral Regions of Southern California, Nancy Dale, 1985, p172
  4. ^ a b c d e Fire Effects Information Service, USDA Forest Service: Prunus ilicifolia
  5. ^ E.G. Gudde (1946). The Solution of the Islay Problem. California Folklore Quarterly 5 (3): 298-299 (Gudde concludes that the word "islay" originated in a Salinan word slay; Islay was the Spanish version of their word).
  6. ^ Germplasm Resources Information Network: Prunus ilicifolia
  7. ^ (Nutt.) Walp., Holly leaved Cherry, holly leaf cherry, hollyleaf cherryPrunus ilicifoliaCalflora taxon report, University of California,
  8. ^ SEINet, Southwestern Biodiversity, Arizona chapter photos and distribution map
  9. ^ a b c d e Jepson Flora: Prunus ilicifolia
  10. ^ Munz, Philip A. 1973. A California flora and supplement. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  11. ^ Conrad, C. E. (1987). Common shrubs of chaparral and associated ecosystems of southern California. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-99. Berkeley, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station.
  12. ^ Jepson Flora: ilicifolia subsp. Prunus ilicifolia
  13. ^ Jepson Flora: lyonii subsp. Prunus ilicifolia
  14. ^ a b Schoenherr, A. A. (1993). A Natural History of California. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  15. ^ Hogan, C. Michael (2008) Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), GlobalTwitcher, ed. N. Stromberg [2]
  16. ^ a b Keeley, Jon E. 1987. Role of fire in seed germination of woody taxa in California chaparral. Ecology 68(2): 434-443; cited in FEIS
  17. ^ Mirov, N. T., & Kraebel, C. J. (1937). Collecting and propagating the seeds of California wild plants. Research Note 18: 1-27. Berkeley, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, California Forest and Range Experiment Station

External links

  • High Desert Trees
  • Desert-Tropicals: Hollyleaf Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia) access date March 26, 2010
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