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Photinia arbutifoliaLindl." Photinia arbutifoliaLindl."
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Kingdom: Plantae
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Division: Magnoliophyta
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Class: Magnoliopsida
Sublass: Rosidae
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Order: Rosales
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Family: Rosaceae
Subfamily: Maloideae
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Genus: Heteromeles
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Species: H. arbutifolia
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Binomial name
Heteromeles arbutifolia
(Lindl.) M.Roem.
Trinomial name
Type Species
Heteromeles salicifolia

Photinia arbutifolia Lindl.

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is a common perennial shrub native to southwestern California, USA and the extreme northwest of Mexico, from the San Francisco Bay area to northern Baja California. It is the sole species of Heteromeles, but is closely related to the Asian genus Photinia, in which it is included by some botanists (it was originally described in that genus).

Fruiting branch

Toyon is a prominent component of the coastal sage scrub plant community, and is a part of drought-adapted chaparral and oak woodland habitats. It is also known by the common names Christmas berry and California holly.

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. They are visited by butterflies, and have a mild, hawthorn-like scent. The fruit is a small pome, 5-10 mm across, bright red and berry-like, produced large quantities, maturing in the fall and persisting well into the winter. The fruit are consumed by birds, including mockingbirds, American Robine, Cedar Waxwings, as well as mammals including coyotes and bears. The seeds are dispersed in their droppings.

Uses and cultivation

The berries provided food for local Native American tribes, such as Chumash, Tongva, and Tataviam. 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. Most were dried and stored, then later cooked into porridge or pancakes. Later settlers added sugar to make custard and wine. The berries also can be made into a jelly. The Native Americans also used a tea made from the leaves as a stomach remedy, the leaves and berries for dyes, and the very hard, close-grained wood for various purposes.

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 bush is handsome all year round and the bright red berries in winter are a special reward (even if the birds devour them all the first day they turn ripe). It is susceptible to fireblight. It survives on little water, making it suitable for XeriscapeTM gardening, and is less of a fire hazard than some chaparral plants.

Legislation involving Toyon

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. Some believe that Hollywood, California derives its name from the numerous "California Holly" bushes which cover the Hollywood Hills, but the origin of Hollywood's name cannot be confirmed.



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