Legend has it that early residents of SoCal were so inspired by a lovely holly-like bush that they were inspired to call their new digs Hollywood. It’s easy to see why the legend spread even if it wasn’t true. The shrub that captured their imagination was the toyon, which grows throughout Southern California. During the fall and winter months toyon plants are covered in small red berries just like the holly plants back in the eastern United States.
The real story behind the name is actually all about savvy marketing. Back in 1886, Harvey Henderson Wilcox and his wife Daeida purchased 120 acres of farmland and fruit tree groves near the Cahuenga Pass. His money making scheme was to divide up the land and sell the lots for a profit. A year later, Daeida met a passenger on a train ride who had an estate named Hollywood back in Illinois. She liked the name and thought it would be a wonderful fit for her and her husband’s new business venture. Thus Hollywood as we know it today was born.
Heteromeles arbutifolia–or, as it is commonly known, toyon –grows in the Santa Monica Mountains and is very easy to cultivate, needing full sun and only occasional water. The plant can grow 6 to 18 feet tall. White flowers in summer yield to red berries in fall and winter. Clipped branches are great to include in floral centerpieces.
In the 1920s, collecting toyon branches for Christmas became so popular in Los Angeles that the State of California passed a law forbidding collecting on public land or on any land not owned by the person picking the plant without the landowner’s written permission (CA Penal Code § 384a).
Whether Hollywood was named in honor of this “California Holly” or not, the well-adapted toyon makes a wonderful addition to any garden.