Celebrate the Holidays with a Toyon Trek

By Liz Kennedy

Director of Ethical Labor and Sustainability at Trademarks & Licensing, ASUCLA

While we all remain vigilant to be safe and not crowded inside during the coming holiday season, the abundance of our natural areas in and around Los Angeles provide endless opportunities to create new traditions in a responsible way. At this special time of year, the Toyon Trek is the perfect way to experience the natural and seasonal beauty of California.

What is a Toyon, you ask? It is a small, super drought-adapted, large shrub/tree with brilliant red berries and deep evergreen leaves. Toyon is a member of the Rose family known also by common names including Christmas Berry or California Holly, and its scientific name Heteromeles arbutifolia. Abundant on many of the trails around UCLA, to the Santa Monica Mountains, Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, and Griffith Park, to name just a few, Toyon happens to be the City of Los Angeles’ official plant.

Toyon has earned this designation with a long and illustrious history, in addition to its beauty. Indigenous Californians have used the Toyon berries for food and medicine for millenia. Toyon is an important habitat plant for birds, wildlife, and pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies, who love its small white flowers in the summer. A persistent urban legend credits the resemblance of Toyon to Eastern Holly as having inspired the name Hollywood, but this story has been debunked. Toyon is also protected by law: in the 1920s, the popularity of the vivid red berries on evergreen branches for seasonal décor threatened the plant severely. California State Penal Code Section 384a exists to this day to protect it.

Heading outside to experience this natural color show is a great way to create a new holiday tradition with loved ones and friends safely. Happy Toyon Trekking Holidays!