Marin Master Gardeners
University of California
Marin Master Gardeners

Plant Guide

Heteromeles arbutifolia

Common Name
Toyon/Christmas Berry
CA Native
California Native
Plant Type
Shrub
Size
6' - 12' x 4' - 5'
Flower Color
White
Bloom Time
  • Spring
Leaves
Dark Green
Evergreen
Evergreen
Deer Resistant
Seldom Damaged
Wildlife Value
  • Attracts Beneficial Insects
  • Hummingbirds
  • Seed and Fruit for Birds
Growth Rate
Moderate
Hardiness
Hardy
Adverse Growth Factors
None
Special Features
  • Attractive Berries
  • Low Maintenance
Water Use
  • Drought Tolerant
  • Low
Soil pH
6.5-7.5 (neutral)
Exposure
  • Full Sun
  • Partial Shade
  • Shade
Soil Type
Not Particular
Drainage
Good Drainage
Description and Cultural Plant Tips

Toyon is an evergreen shrub that can be trained as a small tree. In the fall and early winter it produces clusters of bright red berries which often cover the tree. Birds love them and this shrub is perfect for a habitat garden since it provides both nectar for bees and berries for birds. It can also be used as a hedge or screen, erosion control on hillsides. It is the plant that Hollywood was originally named for.  People still use it to make holiday wreaths.

Plant slightly above soil grade in well-drained soils with no amendments or fertilizers. Toyon tolerates sand, clay as well as serpentine. Plant in the fall to take advanatge of the winter rains. Water deeply occasionally in the summer until established. It likes full sun in coastal Marin but does best under the high shade of oaks in the hotter parts of Marin.

Birds flock to the Toyon berries which hang on the tree until at least January as they aren't edible until very ripe. Bees also enjoy the nectar from the Toyon flowers. The berries are edible to humans but taste terrible. They do contain cyanide that could kill you if you ate enough.

Toyon is susceptible to fire blight. It can also be overcome by SOD if you are in an area where it is endemic. No serious pests infect this shrub.

Master Gardener Comments
Varietals

H.arbutifolia 'Davis Gold' - yellow berries

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