Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), aka “Christmas Berry” or California Holly, is a native tree and favorite hangout for all sorts of birds and wildlife. Once established, it pretty much tolerates anything — blazing sun, drought, fire, shade, lousy soil, mule deer, etc. They’re usually 8-10 ft tall, but this tree is over 30 years old and easily 20 ft tall (happy tree).
Most of the year, it has deep green, densely packed leaves that make it a good screening plant and offers cover for birds. Late summer it blooms with white flowers which give way to clusters of these red berries in the winter. It’s the green/red combination in winter that gives it the nicknames “Christmas Berry” or “California Holly.” (Hollywood was named for the tree which grows on the hillsides in the Los Angeles mountains.)
Birds will eat the berries, but humans shouldn’t. Not only do they taste nasty but they also contain cyanide compounds which can make you sick if you eat enough.
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