Toyon is a beautiful native evergreen bush or small tree from the west coast of the United States. These plants are ideal for gardens on the west coast and will impress with showy displays of white flowers and bright red fruits that persist deep into the winter months.
What Is A Toyon Plant?
Toyon is a member of the Rosaceae family and the only member of the genus Heteromeles. This plant, which is closely related to the Photinias, is also commonly known as the Christmas berry, California holly, or hollywood.
Toyon is an evergreen shrub or tree with multiple gray-brown stems. These plants are usually seen as shrubs of up to about 8 feet (2.4 m) tall, although specimens of over 3 feet (9.1 m) tall and 15 feet (4.5 m) across are known.
These plants are native to the west coast of North America, being widespread in California and Baja California. In these areas, Toyon plants can be found growing in the forest, woodland, and chaparral communities. (1)
Toyon leaves are arranged in rosettes and have sharp, serrated margins. These leaves are glossy and dark green in color, with a leathery texture, and are about 2 inches (5 cm) long and ¾ inch (2 cm) wide.
Toyon flowers are white or cream white and measure about ¼ inch (6 mm) across. Each flower has 5 rounded petals, and they have a mild but pleasant fragrance. Blossoms occur in abundant flat-topped clusters from spring to summer.
After blooming, these flowers mature into orange to red fruits which are ¼ to ⅓ inch (6 to 8 mm) across and ripen from October to January. (2)
How To Grow A Toyon Tree
Toyon plants can be grown from seeds and will take 10 to 40 days to germinate. (2) If you’d like to harvest your own seeds, soak them in water for about a week after removing them from the ripe fruits. Fall is the ideal season to plant these seeds. (3)
Toyon shrub can be successfully grown from cuttings as well. To do this, take 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12.5 cm) semi-hardwood tip cuttings and remove the lower leaves. Dip your cuttings in a root hormone powder and plant them in a sandy medium. These cuttings will take 2 to 3 months to take root.
These plants do best when planted in well-drained soil, although they are adaptable and can be grown in a variety of soil types and pHs.
The Christmas berry is naturally adapted to grow in a winter rainfall region and is usually quite a drought-tolerant. Light watering in summer, every two weeks or so will improve your plant’s health, however, especially while establishing.
Although these plants are adapted for growth in dappled sunlight, full sun in zones 9 and 10, will encourage better flowering.
Toyon is a fast-growing plant in the right conditions and can reach 10 feet (3 m) after just 3 years.
Care and Maintenance
Toyon plants are easy to grow and are very tolerant of pruning. It is best to prune these plants from late winter to early spring, and pruning the branch tips will promote a denser growth shape.
These plants can also be trained as trees by carefully pruning the lower branches, but will generally be multistemmed.
Unfortunately, toyon bush is susceptible to a condition known as fireblight which often affects members of the Rosaceae family. There is a cultivar known as ‘Davis Gold’ which has improved disease resistance. This cultivar has yellow to orange fruits.
Fireblight is a bacterial infection caused by a bacterium known as Erwinia amylovora. The symptoms of this disease are dead and dying branches that turn rust-colored and die from the tip inwards.
This disease can be managed with antibiotic fungicides and infected branches should be cut off at least 8 inches (20 cm) below the damaged area. Take care to disinfect your shears after each cut to avoid spreading the bacteria. (4)
Toyon is a versatile plant that does great as a hedge, screen, or background planting while being attractive and showy enough to be grown as a specimen. These plants can be kept to a manageable size by regular pruning.
Growing toyon tree in a container is not recommended due to the size these plants can reach. If grown in a suitable location with enough space, toyon can be allowed to grow into a handsome small tree.
The fruits of this plant were traditionally eaten by Native Americans but had to be harvested when perfectly ripe. These fruits were usually lightly cooked but also sometimes eaten raw. The leaves and bark were also used to treat aches and pains. (3)
Toyon is an important wildlife plant. Birds, coyotes, and bears eat the berries and disperse the seeds, while deer feed on the leaves of this plant. Toyon is a good source of honey and is visited by many pollinators, including butterflies.
Toyon is a great choice for native wildlife gardens but is versatile enough for planting in many different settings. These beautiful evergreens provide multi-season interest and are generally hardy and easy to grow.
If you’re looking for a shrub or small tree for your Californian garden, this is definitely a plant to consider.
(1) McMurray, N. E. Heteromeles arbutifolia. In: Fire Effects Information System. USDA Forest Service. Retrieved at https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/shrub/hetarb/all.html
(2) Meyer, S. E. The Woody Plant Seed Manual. USDA
(3) Kat Anderson, M. & Roderick, W. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia Plant Guide. Retrieved at https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_hear5.pdf
(4) Martinez, A. Fireblight: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment. Retrieved at https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=C871&title=Fireblight:%20Symptoms,%20Causes,%20and%20Treatment#:~:text=Fireblight%20is%20a%20destructive%2C%20highly,branches%2C%20fruits%2C%20and%20roots.
*imagee by Twoscorpions/depositphotos