How Do You Like Them Apples?

Lots of business on this dreary yet gloriously wet Friday morning.  First is the December calendar, rife with activities and hijinks for the whole family including Great Aunt Murgatroid and the Wee Baby Seamus.  Some highlights include the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, and the triumphant return of papa Antonio Sanchez.   Also I’d like to point your attention to Saturday the 15th when I will be leading a crew of volunteers (yet to be formed) in replanting and spiffing up the Old Baldwin Road trail head.  Imploring you folks for 2 hours of your time to help beautify our unique wheelchair accessible trail which needs a little TLC.  I will provide more details in coming weeks.

Next…. A website that I stumbled upon recently that I thought you’d enjoy.  This is a guy down in Los Angeles area who makes entire meals, desserts, drinks from local plants, mostly natives.  Even though he ignored my request for an interview you may enjoy some of his recipes.

Finally… the reason you got out of your waterbed this morning…It’s that time of the month again.  “Bloom of the Month” has become exceedingly difficult as we hurtle towards Old Man winter.  Anything in flower now is either a late fall stray (some asters still about), or early winter teasers (saving chaparral currant for next month).  This month’s blast of color isn’t from a bloom at all but from the fruit.


Toyon is a member of the rose family.  The latin name Heteromeles arbutofolia is derived from “Hetero” meaning different, “Meles” as in apple (they look like little apples I guess), and “arbutofolia” refers to the scientific name of the Spanish Madrone, which leaves are similar.  Toyon is also known as “Christmas berry” referring to the time of the year when the berries light up the hillsides, and “California holly”, which is supposedly how the hills surrounding Los Angeles became known as Hollywood.

Toyon is a large shrub or occasionally a tree which can be up to 20 feet tall and wide.  Numerous gray barked branches hold helically alternate elliptic evergreen leaves which are heavily serrated and up to 5 inches long.

They bloom in late spring to early summer, small white and often unnoticed.

The berries are called “pomes” which specifically refers to fruits of the rose family.  Other examples include apples, pears, loquats, quince and the ubiquitous cotoneaster (you see their little red fruits everywhere now).  The toyon fruits are very popular with California quails, band tailed pigeons and raccoons.

Cedar waxwing

Not very palatable to humans raw they are usually roasted to soften them and remove the bitterness.

Toyon can thrive in deep shade as well as full sun.  The root system is deep and wide which makes it ideal for erosion control.  They are found up and down California’s coast and some of the interior.  Toyon makes a great addition to any home garden as long as you have the room, “Davis Gold” is a unique selection with larger yellow berries.

The Chumash roasted toyon berries for food, sometimes simply leaving them in the sun until they softened.  The wood was excellent for tools and utensils including fishhooks, spears, needles, digging sticks, bowls, cups and chisels. Weapons such as clubs and especially arrows were often crafted from the malleable but very sturdy branches.   Offertory poles were often made of toyon or green bark ceanothus because the ends could be stuck deep in the ground and would not rot.

Enjoy the rain and have a great weekend, thanks for reading.

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