How Did Hollywood Get Its Name?

Heteromeles arbutifolia, or toyon. Photo: docentjoyce

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. The shrub that captured their imagination was the toyon, which is amazing to see this time of year.

In fact, the name Hollywood was coined by H. J. Whitley, the “Father of Hollywood.” Whitely bought 500 acres from E. C. Hurd; Hurd’s wife’s friend (stay with me here), Daeida Wilcox, co-opted the name “Hollywood” from her neighbor, Ivar Weid, who lived in what was then called Holly Canyon.

Did Ivar come up with the name Hollywood because of the toyon? Perhaps. But who wouldn’t be inspired by the beauty of the toyon?

Heteromeles arbutifolia–or, as it is commonly known, Christmas Berry or California Holly–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.

Lisa Cahill first began her work with TreePeople as a volunteer Citizen Forester. She currently serves on the board of directors for the reDiscover Center, continues to volunteer as a Citizen Forester, has been on the Mar Vista Green Garden Tour and serves on several green committees at her church and children's schools. She most enjoys working in the garden with her husband, watching her children and vegetables grow.