Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) - TheBackCountry

Heteromeles arbutifolia (/ˌhɛtɪroʊˈmiːliːz ɑːrˌbjuːtɪˈfoʊliə/; more commonly /ˌhɛtəˈrɒməliːz/ by Californian botanists), commonly known as Toyon, is a common perennial shrub native to extreme southwest Oregon,  California, Baja California,and British Columbia.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. It is also known by the common names Christmas berry and California holly. Accordingly, "the abundance of this species in the hills above Los Angeles gave rise to the name Hollywood."

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. The five petals are rounded. The fruit is a small pome, 5–10 mm across, bright red and berry-like, produced in large quantities, maturing in the fall and persisting well into the winter.

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. Mammals including coyotes and bears also eat and disperse the pomes.

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.

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

In the 1920s,  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). Toyon was adopted as the official native plant of the city of Los Angeles by the LA City Council on April 17, 2012.

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