Whole Life Magazine

December 2017 / January 2018

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city of angels TOYON By Kathy Vilim The Offi cial Christmas Berry Bush of Los Angeles O n April 17, 2012, Los Angeles chose the Toyon bush as the city's offi cial native plant. The Toyon earned this distinctive status by having a long history in Hollywood going back to the city's founding. The Toyon bush, Heteromeles arbutifolia, is a drought-tolerant perennial shrub native to chap- arral regions of California (such as the Santa Monica Mountains) and down into Baja California. Toyon has long been beloved by Californians, especially during the month of December when it produces glossy red berries in profuse clusters. The shrub re- sembles another winter evergreen found back East, European Holly, Ilex aquifolium, which is frequently used in Yuletide dec- orations for its red berries. Even before Hollywood's development back in the 1920s, women would collect Toyon branches and pick the berries to decorate for Christmas. It has been said that the Hollywood Hills were once covered in these native plants but after so much berry picking, the State of California passed a law against "col- lecting plants on public land or land not owned by the person picking the plant without the landowner's written permission" lest the plants get "picked out." Some say this is how Hollywood got its name. Others say this is not true, that the story is just a romantic notion, and that the name Hollywood simply came from an Ohio woman who knew the developers and chose the name because of a town so named back there. The name "Toyon" is in fact the Native American name for the bush, given by the Ohlone people. The native people, in- cluding the Chumash and Tongva, used the wild, edible berries for food. The berries could be made into jelly, or they could be dried and stored for later use in porridge or pancakes. Toyon leaves were used as a tea for upset stomachs. Toyon is mildly acidic, containing glycosides. These can be removed by cook- ing, but if not done properly, the cyanide compounds could poison you. Romantic notion or not, the Hollywood hills could still be covered in the Toyon bushes with their red berries in winter, and can still be used in decorating. They are especially pretty when contrasted with green pine needles in wreaths. These native plants have wildlife value: The fruit provides food for our local birds, including mockingbirds, robins, and cedar waxwings. Bears and coyotes eat the berries and spread them, and in the spring Toyon's white fl owers are beloved by bees and butterfl ies. Toyon is drought-tolerant once established. It will accept some garden water if drainage is good; it tolerates adobe soil, but also lives in beach sand. Toyon likes full sun, but tolerates full shade and is fi re-resistant if irrigated in summer. It grows easily to 8 ft., but can be pruned as desired. It can grow to 15 ft. when left in the wild. If you are looking to add new native bushes to your yard, Toyon is a wonderful choice for humans and wildlife alike. And it makes a great holiday gift to the birds. BRINGING NATURE INDOORS FOR THE HOLIDAYS The joy of the holiday season includes creative decorating and entertaining. The winter holidays deserve something spe- cial that can only be found by bringing nature inside from your garden. For me, I fi nd great happiness from using the bits of nature that I fi nd right outside my doorstep in my decorating: pine cones, sea shells, acorns, even air plants can be moved inside when temps turn cool. These pieces of nature are like art, each one truly unique. Decorating fi replace mantels, designing candles, setting the table, making wreaths — all can be made special and unique with your own personal garden fi nds. If you do not have a gar- den, a walk through a forest or a stroll along the seashore can produce unique nature-inspired fi nds as well. THE WREATH My favorite festive ornament is the wreath that hangs on the front door: It is like a welcome mat to the holiday season. It gives me great pleasure to make this out of found garden ob- jects. Here is a simple "how to" wreath you can try: 8 wholelifetimes.com

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