New Front Yard: Toyon berries add winter color

03/01/2014 12:00 AM

10/04/2014 12:45 AM

This is one part in a weekly series featuring the UC Davis Arboretum “New Front Yard” series, 41 drought-tolerant and beautiful plants well adapted to our region.

Toyon or Christmas berry

Heteromeles arbutifolia

Size: 10 to 15 feet tall

Bloom season: Spring

Pruning needs: Little or none.

Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.

Water needs: Once established, water deeply every two weeks.

Snapshot: Native to most of California, this handsome shrub with leathery, dark-green leaves blooms in spring, but its winter berries make it a standout. Throughout the colder months, large clusters of berries decorate the plant, giving it the nicknames “Christmas Berry” or “California Holly.” In fact, toyon’s holly monicker gave Hollywood its name; Hollywood’s hills were filled with toyon. Native toyon has red berries, but the university’s arboretum has developed a toyon with golden fruit. Appropriately called “Davis Gold,” this hybrid is a UC Davis exclusive. Toyon berries are a favorite food of the cedar waxwing, a bird that migrates through the Central Valley. You can see both yellow- and red-berried toyon specimens in the arboretum’s Mary Wattis Brown Garden of California native plants on the UC Davis campus.

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