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Heteromeles arbutifolia 1.jpg
Toyon bush in habitat
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Rosaceae
Subfamily: Amygdaloideae
Tribe: Maleae
Subtribe: Malinae
Genus: Heteromeles
M.Roem. nom. cons. 1847
H. arbutifolia
Binomial name
Heteromeles arbutifolia
Heteromeles arbutifolia range map.jpg
Natural range
  • Photinia arbutifolia Lindl.
  • Crataegus arbutifolia W.T.Aiton nom. illeg.[2]
  • Heteromeles fremontiana Decaisne
  • Heteromeles salicifolia (C.Presl) Abrams
  • Photinia salicifolia C.Presl

Heteromeles arbutifolia (/ˌhɛtɪrˈmlz ɑːrˌbjuːtɪˈfliə/;[4] more commonly /ˌhɛtəˈrɒməlz/ by Californian botanists), commonly known as toyon, is a common perennial shrub native to extreme southwest Oregon,[citation needed] California, Baja California,[3] and British Columbia.[5] It is the sole species in the genus Heteromeles.

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.[6] It is also known by the common names Christmas berry[7] and California holly.


Toyon typically grows from 2–5 m (rarely up to 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. Flowering peaks in June [8]

The five petals are rounded. The fruit is a small pome,[5] 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.[citation needed] In winter, the bright red pomes (which birds often eat voraciously) are showy.

Like many other genera in the Rosaceae tribe Maleae, toyon includes some cultivars that are susceptible to fireblight.[9] It survives on little water, making it suitable for xeriscape gardening, and is less of a fire hazard than some chaparral plants.[10]

They are visited by butterflies, and have a mild, hawthorn-like scent. The fruit are consumed by birds, including mockingbirds, American robins, cedar waxwings and hermit thrushes.[11] Mammals including coyotes and bears also eat and disperse the pomes.

Traditional use[edit]

The pomes provided food for local Native American tribes, such as the Chumash, Tongva, and Tataviam. The pomes 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.[12]


Toyon pomes 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.[citation needed]

Some pomes, though mealy, astringent and acid when raw, were eaten fresh, or mashed into water to make a beverage.


In the 1920s,[citation needed] collecting toyon branches for Christmas became so popular in Los Angeles that the State of California passed a law forbidding collecting on public land or on any land not owned by the person picking any plant without the landowner's written permission (CA Penal Code § 384a).[13][14]

Toyon was adopted as the official native plant of the city of Los Angeles by the LA City Council on April 17, 2012.[15]


The genera Photinia, Aronia, Pourthiaea, and Stranvaesia have historically been variously combined by different taxonomists.[16] The genus Heteromeles as originally published by Max Joseph Roemer was monospecific, including Photinia arbutifolia Lindl. (1820), as H. arbutifolia (Lindl.) M. Roem, but the name was illegitimate (superfluous) because it included the type of the genus Photinia.[16] This has since been corrected by conservation,[17] and the name is therefore often written as Heteromeles M. Roem. nom. cons. (1847).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jepson Flora Project (1993) Heteromeles arbutifolia, University of California, Berkeley
  2. ^ Tropicos.org, retrieved 11 November 2016
  3. ^ a b James B. Phipps (2015), "Heteromeles arbutifolia (Lindley) M. Roemer, Fam. Nat. Syn. Monogr. 3: 105. 1847", Flora of North America, 9
  4. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  5. ^ a b "Heteromeles arbutifolia, in Jepson Flora Project". Regents of the University of California. Retrieved 14 November 2013.
  6. ^ C.M. Hogan, 2008
  7. ^ James B. Phipps (2015), "Heteromeles M. Roemer, Fam. Nat. Syn. Monogr. 3: 100, 105. 1847. [name conserved]", Flora of North America, 9
  8. ^ Heteromeles arbutifolia at iNaturalist
  9. ^ Austin Hagan, Edward Sikora, William Gazaway, Nancy Kokalis- Burelle, 2004. Fire Blight on Fruit Trees and Woody Ornamentals, Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities
  10. ^ Dave's Garden
  11. ^ Kaplan, Alan; Hawkes, Alison (December 22, 2016), "Ask The Naturalist: How Important Are Red Toyon Berries To the Winter Food Chain?", Bay Nature
  12. ^ "Ethnobotany of southern California native plants: Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)". EthnoHerbalist.
  13. ^ McKINNEY, JOHN (December 6, 1986). "California Holly Adds Color to Trail Up Mt. Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. p. 12.
  14. ^ California Penal Code Section 384a Archived 2009-06-27 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Item No. (28)" (PDF). Journal/Council Proceedings. LA City Council. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  16. ^ a b Nesom, G.L. & Gandhi, K. (2009), "(1884–1885) Proposals to conserve the names Photinia, with a conserved type, and Heteromeles (Rosaceae)", Taxon, 58 (1): 310–311
  17. ^ International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants: Appendices II-VIII (Appendix III)

External links[edit]