Heteromeles arbutifolia (Lindley) Roemer


Rosaceae (Rose Family)




Christmas Berry   

                                          June Photo


Plant Characteristics:  Evergreen arboreous shrub, unarmed, 2-10 m. high, freely branched, with gray bark and tomentulose young branchlets; lvs. elliptical to oblong, or lance-oblong, 5-10 cm. long, rather sharply toothed, paler beneath, glabrous or sparsely tomentulose; petioles 1-2 cm. long; fl.-tube ca. 3 mm. high; sepals triangular, 1-1.5 mm. long; petals 5, spreading, rounded, concave, ca. 4 mm. long; stamens 10, in pairs opposite the sepals; fils. dilated at base and +/- connate; ovary 2-3 celled, with 2 ovules in each cell; styles 2-3, distinct; fr. red, 5-6 mm. long, quite persistent through the winter months; seeds 2.5-3 mm. long.


Occasional plants growing with the typical ones bear yellow fruits and have been called Photinia a. var. cerina Jeps.  There is a tendency for insular plants to have lvs. subentire, the frs. red, 8-10 mm. long, and these constitute a possible var. macrocarpa Munz.  (Photinia a. var. m. Munz).  Judging from their behavior in the botanic garden, they are not only more showy, but less readily eaten by birds.  (Munz, Flora So. Calif. 747).


Habitat:  Common on semidry brushy slopes and in canyons, below 4000 ft.; Chaparral; mts. of s. Calif. to n. L. Calif. and n. Calif.  Flowers in the late spring and early summer.


Name:  Greek, heter, different, and malus, apple. (Munz, Flora So. Calif. 747).  Toyon is the apple branch of the Rose Family, those with pome fruits (quince, pear, apple hawthorn, pyracantha, cotoneaster, pomegranate, and others including Heteromeles). (John Johnson).  Latin, arbutus, name of the wild strawberry tree.  Celtic, ar boise, rough bush, because of the granular berry.  (Jaeger 24).  The species name probably refers to the fact that the leaf is similar to that of Arbutus.  (John Johnson).


General:  Moderately common on the bluffs, particularly at the north end of Eastbluff.   Photographed in this location.  (my comments).      The bright scarlet berries were gathered by many of the Indian tribes.  Rarely eaten raw, they were cooked either by roasting over hot coals, the bunches of berries being held over the fire as they were gathered, or by tossing in a cooking basket with hot pebbles or wood coals.  This slight cooking seems to take away the somewhat bitter taste of the fresh fruit.  The Indians in some areas made a tea from the bark and the leaves, which was used as a cure for stomach ache and other aches and pains.  The fishermen of Catalina Id. are said to have used the bark of this tree in tanning their nets and sails. (Balls 36,37).       The berries are sweet and spicy.  Indians toasted or boiled them and ate them with great relish.  The Spanish Californians used them to prepare a pleasant drink.  It is thought that masses of the native shrub growing on the hills above Hollywood gave that community its name.  (Dale 171).      A portion of the above wording by Dale is almost an exact copy from Parson's 1909 book, The wild Flowers of California.  (my comment).      When Harvey Wilcox laid out his proposed real-estate development in the Cahuenga Valley north of Los Angeles in 1887, his wife Daeida christened it Hollywood after the summer home of a Chicago woman she had met on a train.   (Nussbaum, Paul.  The Orange County Register, February 1, 1987, p. B6).      Mature chaparral is characterized by a coverage of woody evergreen shrubs three to ten feet in height.  The predominant chaparral shrub in California is chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum). Needle-leaved chamise shrubs form the major coverage on dry, south-facing slopes throughout the range of chaparral.  This widespread dominance is unique among shrubs in Mediterranean-type ecosystems of the world, where mixed dominance is typical.  On north-facing slopes of chaparral, chamise is commonly replaced by stands of mixed dominance with California scrub oak (Quercus dumosa) and or species of manzanita (Arctostaphylos) and (Ceanothus).  The latter two genera have more than forty species in California.  Other important evergreen chaparral shrubs with widespread distribution include redberry (Rhamnus crocea), sugar bush (Rhus ovata), laurel sumac (Malosma laurina). toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), mountain mahogany, (Cercocarpus betuloides), and holly-leafed cherry (Prunus ilicifolia).  Chaparral communities are not comprised solely of evergreen, woody shrubs, but rather a wide mixture of growth forms are characteristically present.  Xeric rocky slopes and ridges, and distributed sites are commonly dominated by mixed stands of drought-deciduous subshrubs with a variety of annual and perennial herbs.  The leaves of virtually all chaparral plants have various qualities that may act to reduce herbivory.  Some of these are morphological and anatomical characteristics that result from adaptations to their climatic regime.  The leathery leaves of most chaparral shrubs, for example, have high concentrations of indigestible fibers in the form of lignin (and cellulose), low concentrations of nitrogen, and reduced levels of tissue water.  All of these certainly reduce the palatability of leaves to herbivores, but account for little additional energetic cost beyond the features important in physiological tolerance to drought.  Most woody chaparral plants, however, allocate significant portions of their energy resources to formation of chemical compounds that appear to have no physiological function other than deterring herbivores or pathogens from feeding on leaves or other plant tissues.  One of the most important such compounds is tannin.  Up to twenty percent of the dry weight of leaf tissues in some shrubs may be composed of tannins.  Species of oak, manzanita and toyon are all characterized by tannin-rich leaf tissues.  The ecological significance of tannins is thought to lie in their ability to bind proteins to form non-biodegradable products.  This is exactly the principal used in the tanning industry, where animal skins are treated with tannins extracted from plant tissue.  Another interesting group of compounds present in leaves of toyon, the cyanogenic glucosides, may protect this species from both herbivores and pathogens.  Under normal conditions, a chemical complex of cyanide and sugar in the leaves forms a harmless compound.  When hydrolytic enzymes are released as leaves are damaged, the resulting chemical reaction cleaves off the sugar portion of the molecule and releases highly toxic hydrogen cyanide gas.  Patterns of the allocation of photosynthesis products in chaparral shrubs have been studied in considerable detail.  While above-ground growth is commonly limited to a four- to six month period, net photosynthetic production occurs throughout the year.  In fall and winter, when there is no above ground growth, this carbon product is allocated to root growth, below-ground carbohydrate storage, and the development of chemical defenses against herbivores.  Nearly two-thirds of the annual photosynthetic budget in evergreen chaparral shrubs goes to maintenance and growth respiration.  Root respiration alone accounts for about one-quarter of the annual budget.  In comparison to the leaves of deciduous plants, the sclerophyllous leaves of chaparral plants are expensive to produce in terms of physiologic costs.  This is because of their high lignin content, which makes them hard, and the common presence of secondary metabolic compounds.  The metabolic cost of these leaves, however, is amortized over a longer period of useful life than are deciduous leaves.  Leaves of most evergreen chaparral shrubs typically last two years. (Rundel, Philip W. "Structure and Function in California Chaparral".  FREMONTIA, A Journal of the California Native Plant Society.  October 1986. pp. 4-9). For additional information on these subjects see also Lotus scoparius, Encelia californica, Artemisia californica,  Eriogonum fasciculatum, Rhus integrifolia, Bloomeria crocea, Phacelia ramosissima, Eriophyllum confertiflorum, and Lolium perenne.      The Chumash Indians of the Santa Barbara area used Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia for hardwood in making of arrow foreshafts, digging sticks and many other kinds of tools.  (Timbrook, J. "Chumash Ethnobotany: A Preliminary Report".  Journal of Ethnobiology, December 1984, 141-169).      The digging stick was apparently used by most California Indian tribes it was made of fire hardened, mountain mahogany, Cercocarpus betuloides; buck brush Ceanothus cuneatus; ironwood, Olneya tesota; oak, Quercus spp.; Catalina ironwood, Lyonothamnus floribundus; and  toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia. The Chumash used the latter two woods for sticks to dig the bulbs of blue dicks or brodiaea.  Both sharp pointed and chisel-edged sticks are known from collections and some had a stone ring slipped over them to add leverage when digging.  (Campbell 71).      Delfina Cuero, a Kumeyaay or Southern Diegueno Indian, made the following comments about Heteromeles arbutifolia in her autobiography:  "Make a pulp of the leaves and wash sores with the liquid.  The berries were bitter and used for food only when we were starving."  (Shipek 92).       Heteromeles arbutifolia was used in arrow making by the Chumash, Indians of the Santa Barbara area.  Plain wooden arrows were made from 1/4 inch diameter growth and were used for deer, coyote and birds.  The point was hardened while still green by placing it in hot ashes.  Feathers were attached using sinew.  (Campbell 283).      A genus of one species.  (Munz, Flora So. Calif. 747).


Text Ref:  Hickman, Ed. 953; Munz, Calif. Flora 794; Munz, Flora So. Calif. 747; Roberts 36.

Photo Ref:  Feb 1 83 # 5; June 7 83 # 3A; Jan 1 84 # 22.

Identity:  R. De Ruff.

First Found:  February 1983.


Computer Ref:  Plant Data 266

No plant specimen.

Last edit.  10/14/04.


                         December Photo                                                                December Photo