Skip to content

Plant Profile: Toyon

Toyon found on Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Photo courtesy of Keir Morse.

Toyon, known for its bright red berries that grow during the fall and winter seasons, is a plant common in the area, so you’ve probably already seen it if you’ve been out on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Also known as the Christmas berry or California Holly, toyon is a perennial shrub native to the western part of California.

It thrives in sunny conditions, but also adapts well to partial shade, making it a common sight in numerous dry regions across Orange County. It is a valuable member of the drought-adapted chaparral and coastal sage scrub community found in Southern California. It’s also adaptable to various soil types and tends to flourish near seasonal creeks, at the base of slopes or in irrigated areas.

Belonging to the rose family, Rosaceae, toyon characteristics include evergreen leaves with sharp teeth, arranged in rosettes, enhancing its appearance. This evergreen shrub is relatively easy to grow and can do so fairly quickly, reaching heights of up to eight feet (with rare specimens recorded at 30 feet).

During the summer, it produces small white flowers that form clusters, attracting butterflies and other insects. Through fall and winter, the toyon produces large quantities of bright red, berry-like fruits, which serve as a vital food source for various wildlife species, including birds, coyotes and even bears.

Interestingly, toyon plants can have fire-retardant properties when provided with adequate moisture, making them valuable additions to areas prone to dry conditions, particularly during peak wildfire seasons. This feature makes them vital to the natural habitats within Southern California, where wildfires are prevalent.

Toyon found on Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Photo courtesy of Keir Morse.
Toyon found on Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Photo courtesy of Keir Morse.