Each month the Dunes Center highlights a blooming plant in our native garden. This month Heteromeles arbutifolia (known as Toyon or Christmas berry) is blooming in our garden. In late fall and winter, it is covered with pea-sized bright red berries, or pomes, that birds enjoy. Toyon is very showy in winter with evergreen leaves and abundant red fruit and is popular for Christmas decorations. Small, white flowers appear in summer, and are frequented by bees.
Toyon is a shrub that is native to California and is found only slightly beyond California borders. A pioneer plant on eroded soil, it sprouts vigorously after fire or cutting. The berries provided food for local Native American tribes, such as the Chumash. Tea was made from the leaves as a stomach remedy. Most berries 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.
It is said that abundant Toyon were growing at a new town site near Los Angeles many years ago, hence the new town was named Hollywood. Toyon has good landscape form, flowers, fruit, looks good year-round, is drought tolerance and has wide adaptability. All this makes for a favorite for any garden.
To see Toyon, you can visit the Guadalupe Native Garden on the corner of 7th Street and Campodonico Avenue in Guadalupe. For more information or directions, stop by the Dunes Center!