Christmas Berry

Christmas Berry
Any plant with the word “Christmas” in its common name is bound to be of
interest during the holiday season. Christmas berry (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is also known as California holly, redberry, toyon, and toy-on. This is widely grown in California, its home state.

In the wild, this plant can be found on rocky slopes, gulches, mountain sides, and along streams.

This lovely plant is called Christmas berry because the fruits ripen beginning in November or so, and are usually present well into the New Year. The berries are generally red. However, there is a variety with yellow fruits. These are a favorite for holiday decorations.

The ripe red berries are borne in clusters. They introduce a punch of color to the landscape late in the year. The fruits were eaten by Native Americans. They’re most commonly added to salads and made into drinks. The taste is somewhat acid. There is a variety (Heteromeles arbutifolia var. macrocarpa) with very large fruits

The small white blossoms, less than ¼ inch across, appear in flattened, dense clusters during June and July. The attractive evergreen can be six to ten feet in height when it is trained as a shrub. As a tree, Christmas berry is typically multi-trunked, and reaches around twenty-five feet in height.

The shiny, attractive foliage is deep green. Four inches in length, the alternate, leathery leaves are toothed. A related species from the Channel Islands is sometimes seen in western landscapes.

Christmas berry can withstand dry spells. However, in order to look its best, this benefits from watering whenever rain is insufficient.

Pruning once a year will help to keep the plant compact. This also serves to promote flowering and fruiting.

This species can sometimes experience fireblight, which isn’t surprising since some other Rose family members also are susceptible.

Christmas berry is most suited to zone seven through nine or so. It thrives in part shade to full sun. It is propagated by seeds, cuttings, and layering.

I’m especially glad to recommend this species because it is an excellent pollinator plant. In some parts of California, it can routinely provide a super of honey.

The thick, amber colored honey has a distinctive flavor. It tends to granulate within two to four months. In California, most of the plant’s surplus honey is produced in Nevada, Colusa, and Monterey counties in the state.

Christmas berry is most commonly found in certain regions of California. These include the southern coast range, the plateau region, Santa Catalina Island, the foothills of the Sierras, the Central Valley, and San Francisco and Bay counties.

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