Toyon: California's Christmas Berry

Toyon, red native California berries

Glowing red berries ripening around Thanksgiving, bouquets of tiny white flowers loved by the bees in the spring, Toyon grows naturally almost everywhere, but especially favors our mountainsides. Its response to fire is spectacular; it grows up to six feet from its crown.

In another one of those superlatives Santa Barbara specializes in, the largest specimen in the wild (around 30 ft tall) are found growing in our oak woodlands, according to Bruce Reed, nursery manager at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Called the Christmas berry, Toyon is certainly one of California's most beautiful shrubs. Its red berries are a dazzling addition to our warm holiday season.

It makes an outstanding garden plant where it thrives with occasional water and can be tamed with pruning. Like most native plants, Toyon does best when planted during our rainy season. Look for it in local nurseries.

And if beauty alone wasn't enough, the berries make a delicious cider - see The Living Wild Project – for a recipe. 

-Contributed by Phila Rogers