Heteromeles arbutifolia


Heteromeles arbutifolia/Toyon

Better known as Toyon, this holly-like shrub – which eventually grows into a dense tree up to 35' – is what Hollywood was originally named after. Its stiff evergreen foliage and dense clusters of red berries make it a favorite for holiday wreaths, as well as a snack for the local wildlife.

Deer browse on its tender new leaves; fortunately, its one of the few plants that have no trouble outgrowing their reach. More importantly, birds, squirrels, and other wildlife rely on the abundant berries during the otherwise bleak winter months. The berries hang on the trees for a long time, as apparently they aren't edible until they are very ripe. Ours usually last until the end of January, when a visiting flock of Cedar Waxwings finishes them off (much to the consternation of our resident birds). The cycle repeats with clusters of white flowers in late summer.

When nursery shopping for Toyon, bear in mind that it generally looks terrible in a pot; get it in the ground and it'll be much happier and long-lived. It is happiest in full sun to light shade, with little to no summer water once established. More water – especially in bursts long enough to reach its deep roots – encourages growth. Toyon should be used as a replacement for the more typical, but non-native, pyracantha or cotoneaster. Seedlings may appear nearby, but are easily managed. Transplanting seedlings can be successful if you catch them when they are very young before the tap root gets going.

The toyon pictured above is intermingled with a Roger's Red california wild grape. We've also planted a yellow-berried Toyon selection; it produced its first set of flowers and berries in 2004.

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