(Nutt. ex Hook. & Arn.) Walp.
|Natural range of Prunus ilicifolia (var. ilicifolia green; var. occidentalis blue)|
Prunus ilicifolia (Common names: "Hollyleaf cherry", "Evergreen cherry"; "Islay" - Salinan Native American) is an evergreen shrub to tree, producing edible cherries, with shiny and spiny toothed leaves similar in appearance to holly. It is native to the chaparral areas of coastal California and northern Baja California, as well as the desert chaparral areas of the Mojave desert.
Holly-leaved cherry grows 8 to 30 feet tall, with thick, alternate leaves 1 to 2 inches in length. It has small white flowers growing in clusters, similar in appearance to most members of the rose family, Rosaceae, flowering from March to May. 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).
The plant is prized for cultivation, showy and easily grown from seed, and has been cultivated for hundreds of years (or more) as a food source, and tolerates twice yearly pruning when often used as a hedge. The plant likes full sun, loose open soil (porous), and tolerates drought conditions well, but needs regular watering when young. Bees are attracted to it.
Native Americans fermented the fruit into a drink used to get intoxicated. "Prunus" comes from the old Latin for "plum". "Ilici - folia means "holly like - leaves". 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.
It is an evergreen shrub or small tree approaching 15 meters in maximum height, with dense, hard leaves (sclerophyllous) foliage. The leaves are 1.6–12 cm long with a 4–25 mm petiole and spiny margins, somewhat resembling those of the holly, hence its English name. 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 and sweet, but contains little flesh surrounding the smooth seed.
- P. ilcifolia subsp. ilicifolia - mainland California and Baja California, red fruit 12–18 mm diameter
- P. ilicifolia subsp. lyonii (Eastw.) Raven - Catalina cherry, Channel Islands of California (San Clemente, Santa Catalina, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Island islands), blue-black fruit 15–25 mm diameter
Distribution, habitat, and ecology
Prunus ilicifolia is native to California chaparral and foothill woodlands along the Coast Ranges below 1,600 m. Its distribution extends from northern Baja California along the California coast to the northernmost extent of the Coast Ranges, 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.
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. 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.
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. Instead, it relies on the natural death of surrounding vegetation during long periods of fire-free conditions to make room for its seedlings.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Prunus ilicifolia.|
- Flowering Plants of the Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal & Chaparral Regions of Southern California, Nancy Dale, 1985, p172
- Fire Effects Information Service, USDA Forest Service: Prunus ilicifolia
- 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).
- Germplasm Resources Information Network: Prunus ilicifolia
- Jepson Flora: Prunus ilicifolia
- Munz, Philip A. 1973. A California flora and supplement. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
- 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.
- Jepson Flora: Prunus ilicifolia subsp. ilicifolia
- Jepson Flora: Prunus ilicifolia subsp. lyonii
- Schoenherr, A. A. (1993). A Natural History of California. University of California Press, Berkeley.
- Hogan, C. Michael (2008) Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), GlobalTwitcher, ed. N. Stromberg 
- Keeley, Jon E. 1987. Role of fire in seed germination of woody taxa in California chaparral. Ecology 68(2): 434-443; cited in FEIS
- 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
- High Desert Trees access date March 26, 2010
- Desert-Tropicals: Hollyleaf Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia) access date March 26, 2010