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Heteromeles arbutifolia 1.jpg
Toyon bush in habitat
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
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
Synonyms [3]
  • 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.[ citation needed]


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.[ citation needed]

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.[ citation needed]

Traditional use

Toyon berries

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] The plants were also often cooked over a fire to remove the slightly bitter taste by California Indians. [13]

The Tongva (who called the plant ashuwet) ate the berries fresh, boiled and left them in an earthen oven for 2 to 3 days, roasted them, or made them into a cider. Pulveurized flowers were steeped into hot water to make tea which could be used to ease gynecological ailments. For stomach pains, bark and leaves are steeped in hot water to make tea. The same tea can serve as a seasonal tonic and ease other body pains. Also, applying mashed ashuwet to sores eases pain. Infected wounds are washed using an infusion of bark and leaves. [14] The ʔívil̃uqaletem also called the plant ashwet. They often consumed the fruit both raw and cooked. [13]


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] Most fruits from plants in the family Rosaceae, including apples, apricots, peaches, cherries, and plums, contain cyanide. [15]

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

A 2016 study found 5g of the dried berries (used as a treatment for Alzheimer's) to be safe. The study also found no cyanogenic compounds in the plant. [15]


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). [16] [17]

Toyon was adopted as the official native plant of the city of Los Angeles by the LA City Council on April 17, 2012. [18]


The genera Photinia, Aronia, Pourthiaea, and Stranvaesia have historically been variously combined by different taxonomists. [19] 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. [19] This has since been corrected by conservation, [20] and the name is therefore often written as Heteromeles M. Roem. nom. cons. (1847).[ citation needed]


The plant has been used as a treatment for Alzheimer's by indigenous people of California and recent research has found a number of active compounds that are potentially beneficial to Alzheimer's treatment. These include icaricide compounds, which protect the blood-brain barrier and prevent infiltration of inflammatory cells into the brain. [15]

See also


  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. ^ a b Bean, John Bean; Saubel, Katherine Siva (1969). Temalpakh (from the Earth): Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants. Malki Museum Press. ISBN  978-0939046249.
  14. ^ "Ashuwet". Tongva Medicinal Plants.
  15. ^ a b c Wang; Dubois; Young; Lien; Adams (7 Jul 2016). "Heteromeles Arbutifolia, a Traditional Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease, Phytochemistry and Safety". Medicines. 3 (3): 17. doi: 10.3390/medicines3030017. PMC  5456246. PMID  28930127.
  16. ^ McKINNEY, JOHN (December 6, 1986). "California Holly Adds Color to Trail Up Mt. Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. p. 12.
  17. ^ California Penal Code Section 384a Archived 2009-06-27 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ "Item No. (28)" (PDF). Journal/Council Proceedings. LA City Council. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  19. ^ 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, doi: 10.1002/tax.581041
  20. ^ International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants: Appendices II-VIII (Appendix III)

External links