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Native plant profile: California holly

 

Last updated 1/17/2008 at Noon

California holly, or Toyon

Otherwise known as Toyon, a Native American name, this common shrub of southern California resembles the traditional European holly and is the plant from which Hollywood gets its name.

Every year around Christmastime, Toyon shows off its deep red berries in large sprays that hang low from the ends of its branches.

This is a large and evergreen shrub up to 15 feet tall and 15 feet wide, and because it is adapted to our local conditions, it is extremely drought tolerant.

It is also tolerant of a wide variety of soil types, even heavy clay.

Small amounts of supplemental water will optimize the behavior of Toyon and increase the likelihood of good berry production. Grown on the dry side and with good surrounding airflow, this plant suffers from little to no pest or disease problems.

In gardens with excessive water and fertile soils, or in foggy coastal conditions, Toyon might struggle with fungal problems but may outgrow these problems as it matures.

Unlikely pest infestations can often be corrected by coppicing (cutting to the ground the entire shrub) and burning, or otherwise disposing of, the affected top growth. Toyon then grows back from the ground vigorously and will create a new full-sized shrub within a few years.

It is this amazing capacity to grow back from being cut hard that makes Toyon an excellent hedging shrub.

It looks good left to its natural shape, or formally shaped into boxes, walls and topiary forms.

The berries are bitter and inedible when young, so hang on to the plant until well after Christmas. Later in the winter they mature and make a tasty snack for the birds and coyotes.

Clayton Tschudy is an ecological landscape designer and the assistant manager of Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery.

 

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