in Tucson, Phoenix,
Arizona and California

Gardening in Tucson, Phoenix, Arizona and California

while line Back to Plant List

while line Back to Shrubs

Growing Heteromeles arbutifolia: Toyon / Christmas Berry

social icons Facebook Twitter Pinterest Instagram

Form: A shrub, or with pruning, a small tree.
Lifespan: 100-200 years.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Moderate to rapid depending on location.
Mature Size: Normally about 8' tall, but it can grow 6-30' high and 10-15' wide.
Flowers: Small, five white petals, in clusters, producing a mild fragrance.
Bloom: Summer. This plant begins to flower and fruit after its seedling has been in the ground three years.
Fruit: Small, clustered, red fruit ripening in fall and persisting into winter. The untasty apple-like fruit, containing two seeds, are edible when cooked.
Leaves: Green, elliptical, often with pointed ends, leathery, saw-toothed edges.
Stems: The bark is gray to brown and smooth, without thorns.
Roots: Strong, wide and deep. In a fire, the plant can resprout from its root crown.
Wildlife: The flowers attract bees, the fruit attracts birds. Toyon is a food plant for one species of butterfly and several moth caterpillars. Mammals may browse young leaves when the plant is watered in a drought.
Toxic / Danger: All parts of the plant contain a cyanide-forming compound that is toxic to humans and domesticated animals. The ripe fruit become edible when cooked.
Origin: California and Baja California, Mexico.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 7-10.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun in coastal areas. In inland areas, full sun to heavy shade.
Planting: Locate where the plant will receive full sun most of the day. The soil must be well draining. This plant does well on slopes.
Soil: Well drained, dry, low in organic content, pH 5-7.8 (strongly acidic to slightly alkaline). This plant is salt spray tolerant.
Water after becoming established: Deep water once a month mid-spring to mid-fall allowing for heavy summer rain. Do not overwater. Deep water twice a month mid-fall to mid-spring allowing for heavy winter rain. This plant evolved in a region with winter rains and summer droughts.
Mulch: No. The soil around the plant should dry quickly.
Prune: Prune only lightly to shape and trim any time of year. Prune more severely only in mid to late summer, but do not remove more than one-third of the plant. Pruning makes the plant susceptible to disease, especially in humid situations.
Litter: Wet fruit.
Propagation: Seed collected and planted in the fall or stratified and planted in the spring. Stored seed must be stratified. Semi-hardwood tip cuttings, 4-5" long, with their bottom leaves stripped, and covered or dipped in rooting hormone, can be placed in a sandy, moist, well draining planting mix. They will root in 2-3 months.
Pests: Fire blight, root rot if overwatered, scale, and thrips. Most diseases occur in moist environments.
Uses: Ornamental, hedge, erosion control on slopes. The fruit, baked in a pie, develops a cherry-like flavor.

This plant is a member of the Rose family (Rosaceae). It needs less water than an apple tree.

Do you have additional information or a different experience for this plant that you would like to share?
Email All contributions are welcome and appreciated.

copyright ©
Latest update: June, 2021.

Miguel Vieira from Walnut Creek, CA, USA, CC BY 2.0 httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby2.0, via Wikimedia Commons