Why this California-native fruit plant is great for your garden – Orange County Register


Although flowers and foliage are the main assets of ornamental plants, colorful fruits are sometimes an added bonus. The winter season is a time when the fruits of some pome species are abundant and very visible. If these little fruits remind you of miniature apples, there’s a good reason. Apples are also pome fruits. However, I do not recommend eating these foods raw as some are poisonous and those that can be eaten are rather bland. Some are less toxic and tastier when cooked, and plenty of information is available online for incorporating them into your diet if desired.

Let’s start with the toyon native to California (Heteromeles arbutifolia). This plant was called toyon (tollon) by the Spaniards, mimicking the word used for this shrub in Penutian, a group of Native American languages. Its berries have long been a food source for Native American tribes throughout California. It took a while, but finally, in 2012, it was awarded the title of official native plant of the City of Angels, a testament to its presence in the hills above, around and in the middle of Los Angeles. That same year, toyon shrubs were planted around Los Angeles City Hall to replace an expansive lawn.

You may not know it, but the bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) and the coral tree (Erythrina caffra) are the official flower and tree of Los Angeles, although both are native to South Africa. South.

  • Fruiting sky flower Duranta erecta. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

  • Rockspray cotoneaster Cotoneaster microphyllus. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

  • Firethorn Pyracantha coccinea. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

  • Toyon Heteromeles arbutifolia. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

  • Variegated sky flower Duranta erecta Variegata. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

The bright scarlet berries and serrated leaves of the toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) vaguely resemble the berries and leaves of holly, and Hollywood is named after this resemblance. Those who came here from the eastern United States missed their holly at home and thought they had found an approximation of it by looking at the toyon. Take a walk in the Hollywood Hills today, not far from the famous Hollywood sign, and you will still see many toyon bushes, their red berries shining brilliantly amidst an otherwise pale winter landscape.

Toyon grows locally in sunny and somewhat shady locations, in almost any soil, and can be virtually water-free after a few years in the garden. Another name given to this plant was Christmas berry, due to the season in which its fruits ripen. In the early years of the 20th century, the cutting of toyon branches for Christmas decoration became so widespread that the State of California, in order to prevent the destruction of the species, passed a law in the 1920s prohibiting this practice. The only toyon branches you were allowed to cut were those taken from plants growing on your own property. This law, moreover, is still in force. As for toyon’s appeal to wildlife, a variety of birds, as well as coyotes and bears, consume its fruit.

Chinese photinia (Photinia serrulata) is a closely related species that is rarely seen in the nursery trade but should be more widely available. It is a handsome, symmetrically domed shrub that quickly reaches a mature height of about 15 feet in our area and makes an exceptional tall, dense hedge. I should note that although the fruits of the Chinese photinia are virtually identical in appearance to those of the toyon, the local wildlife hardly notices them; this is one of the arguments made for planting natives, if you like having a wildlife-friendly garden, rather than planting their imported cousins.

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is another large shrub or small tree that is rarely seen but deserves more recognition from gardeners. It is not fussy about soil type and has charming three-lobed leaves in addition to pome fruits. For hundreds of years, hawthorn has been recognized in Europe as an herbal treatment for heart and blood circulation problems. Modern research and clinical studies have verified the effectiveness of long-standing folk medicine practices involving hawthorn, particularly with regard to the use of extracts from its leaves.

Cotoneaster (kuh-toe-nee-ASS-ter) is a plant for all seasons and has always been one of my favorites. I’ve never seen it do anything other than thrive, and with minimal water, to boot. Although it is a very leafy plant, I have never seen any signs of wilting, disease or insect pests. If plants could talk, the cotoneaster would never complain.

Cotoneaster is a plant for four seasons. It is covered in white apple blossoms in spring, shows its bright red fruit in late summer, fall and winter, and displays dense foliage that hugs the stem throughout the year.

There is a lot to learn from this plant. Despite minimal needs, he gives non-stop and has a pleasant demeanor at all times. Or, maybe you could say that because he has minimal needs, he is always generous and smiling and has no sense of entitlement.

Cotoneaster species vary greatly and there is probably one for you, whatever your garden needs. There are giant cotoneasters (Cotoneaster lacteus) that grow in fountain shrubs over eight feet tall and can serve as a screen or tall hedge to the ground-hugging carpets of cotoneaster (Cotoneaster dammeri).

I am particularly fond of a species that grows in a low hedge. It is known as rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster microphyllus), with 1/3 inch leaves. Tiny sessile fruits grow throughout its shoots and are profusely visible, bright red, even when mowing is done regularly.

Pyracantha or firethorn, like cotoneaster, is a genus of pome fruits that includes species of varying heights. Its name combines its outstanding characteristics – pyr- comes from pyro, meaning fire, and -acantha comes from acanthus, meaning thorn. The fruit of pyracantha is either fiery red or bright orange, both evoking long-awaited warmth on cold winter days. If you have a slope that you want to cover with plants but are budget constrained, I recommend planting a few traditional pyracantha (Pyracantha coccinea) shrubs that can grow up to 20 feet tall and then let them go. Pyracantha plants grow rapidly and the seeds germinate after their fruits pass through the intestines of birds. You will soon have pyracantha seedlings popping up all over your slope. Pyracantha can also be planted as a living security fence due to its fearsome thorns.

It should be mentioned that all of the above pome plants have massive, always white flowers before the development of fruits. Toyon, photinia, hawthorn, cotoneaster and pyracantha flower in the spring and their fruits develop throughout the spring and summer months. A bacterial disease known as fire blight will occasionally visit some of these species. The bacteria enter through the flowers and turn the shoots brown and then black. Dipping pruners in a solution of Clorox bleach when cutting affected shoots will help prevent the spread of disease.

When it comes to fruit-bearing California natives, none can top elderberries. Five species are native to California, producing generous platters of white flower clusters followed by numerous red, blue or black fruits, depending on the species. The most commonly observed in this group is the blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea). It demonstrates a phenomenal growth rate, reaching a height of 15 feet, planted from a gallon container, within a few years, eventually reaching 30 feet tall. It handles wet and dry soils and sunny and shady exposures. It will shed its leaves in hot weather when deprived of summer irrigation, although it requires no more than a single monthly drench once established.

The Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolia), as its name suggests, bears long clusters of purple fruit, making it a must-have selection for wildlife gardens. The fruit is preceded by impressive bouquets of golden flowers. The adult height is six feet. Nevin’s barberry (Berberis / Mahonia nevinii) is a related species, only larger, about ten feet tall and wide, covered in yellow flowers followed by scads of red fruit that are pleasing to birds. Nevin’s barberry is endemic to southern California and is endangered. Of the remaining 21 populations, almost all have fewer than 20 individual plants, and some have fewer than five. Nevin’s barberry makes an excellent live fence due to its prickly foliage. If anyone knows of a nursery with Nevin’s Barberry seedlings currently available for sale, please let me know so I can pass the information along to the readers of this column.

Tip of the week: Sky Flower (Duranta erecta) has an overwhelming display of pale orange fruit this time of year. Keep in mind that before the fruit there was a massive display of flowers on long stems. The name sky flower, however, is in no way a reference to the stature of this plant, which is more on the scale of a tall shrub than a tree, but rather to the color of its hanging clusters of lavender-blue flowers. It also grows rapidly, reaching a mature height of 20 feet within a few years. Varieties with flowers that are white or purple with white trim are also available, as is ‘Gold Mound’, a dwarf cultivar that stands only 18 inches tall. There is also a variegated green and gold cultivar that eventually reaches nine feet tall, but is often kept as a low hedge.

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