Chumash: 'axtatapǝsh Español: Islay
Origin: Channel Islands
Flower Color: White
Height: 15-25 feet
Width: 10-15 feet
Exposure: Sun or Shade
Drought Tolerant: Yes
Irrigation: Low Water Needs
Alternate names: Islay, yslay,
Hollyleaf Cherry is an evergreen shrub, producing edible cherries, with shiny and spiny
toothed leaves similar in appearance to holly that is native to California. The name
islay, or yslay is the Spanish version of the Native American name, “ slay”, and is the
common name historically used by most Native Californian peoples to refer to the plant,
the fruit, and the food made from the pits of the Hollyleaf Cherry.
The fruits were eaten both fresh and dried. The thin, sweet flesh was eaten sparingly as it was known to upset the stomach if too much was eaten. The thin pulp provided moisture for thirsty hunters. The juice from the fruits was fermented and drunk. The kernels within the large pits were particularly valued for food by many Native Californians. These pits were carefully prepared to remove a poisonous substance before using them for food. In the past, for some tribes, the kernels within these wild cherry pits were second only to acorns in importance. The fruit was usually hand picked from the trees.