Toyon: California’s indigenous plant is festive, beautiful and edible

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The holly, with its prickly green leaves and bright red berries, is often used as decoration this time of year. There’s a similar native plant called the California holly, also known as Toyon. That’s what indigenous people named the plant before the Europeans showed up. 

“Toyon is actually very edible, and it has been eaten by native folks up and down California,” says Lila Higgins, who works at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. In contrast, the European holly is poisonous.

While some believe Hollywood got its name from the plant, Higgins says the real story is that an owner of the land in the late 19th century met a traveler from Illinois whose estate was named “Hollywood.” She supposedly loved the name and convinced her husband to name their land the same.

To check out the Toyon over the holidays, Higgins recommends going to the Santa Monica Mountains, parts of Griffith Park, and around the Hollywood sign.

“You might even get lucky and see a cedar waxwing chomping down on the berries,” she adds.



  • Lila Higgins - Senior Manager for Community Science at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County