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"Toyon" redirects here. For the community in California, see Toyon, California.

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]
Natural range

Heteromeles salicifolia
Photinia arbutifolia Lindl.

Heteromeles arbutifolia (/ˌhɛtɨrɵˈmlz ɑrˌbjuːtɨˈfliə/;[4] more commonly /hɛtəˈrɒməlz/ by California botanists), commonly known as Toyon, is a common perennial shrub native to California down to 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.

It is the sole species of Heteromeles, but is closely related to the Asian genus Photinia. It is still included by some botanists, as Toyon was originally described in that genus.


Toyon typically grows from 2–5 m (rarely up 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, 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. The bright red berries in winter are showy (which birds often eat voraciously).

Like many other genera in Rosaceae tribe Pyreae, Toyon includes some cultivars that are susceptible to fireblight.[6] It survives on little water, making it suitable for xeriscape gardening, and is less of a fire hazard than some chaparral plants.

Wildlife value

They are visited by butterflies, and have a mild, hawthorn-like scent. The fruit are consumed by birds, including mockingbirds, American Robins, Cedar Waxwings.

Mammals including coyote and bear also eat and disperse the berries.

Traditional use

The berries provided food for local Native American tribes, such as Chumash, Tongva, and Tataviam. The berries 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..

Later settlers added sugar to make custard and wine.


Toyon berries 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.

Some berries, 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, California 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).[7][8]

See also

  • California native plants



  • , University of California, Berkeley
  • Germplasm Resources Information Network—GRIN (1910) Bull. New York Bot. Gard. 6:381.
  • ,, ed. N. Stromberg
  • Photos of Toyon in flower and fruit
  • )

External links

  • (toyon)
  • — U.C. Photo gallery
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