Arctostaphylos glauca, commonly called bigberry manzanita, is an evergreen shrub native to California. The rigid and often crooked branches of dense, fine-grained, muscular looking wood, with smooth, polished, shedding, reddish bark are quite distinct. In the Santa Monica Mountains this plant can found above 1500 feet elevation on northern slopes. If you have ever had the unfortunate experience of being lost off trail, you know how formidable a patch of manzanita can be to your progress. A canopy of blooming manzanitas is one of the most pleasant experiences you could have on a chaparral covered hillside.
The Santa Monica Mountains have two species of Manzanita and they can often be found growing near each other. The differences between the two are subtle but once you look close enough there are a few clues that help identify the species. Here are two things to look for:
- look where the plant comes out of the ground - is there a burl? Absence of a burl on older plants is a diagnostic trait for this species. This plant typically has a single trunk growing out of the ground.
- look at the leaves and stems of the plant - are there lots of hairs? No? This plant does not have hairs on leaves and stems.
- if fruit is present, this plant lives up to its common name - bigberry manzanita.
- look at the height of the plant - can grow to 20 feet
- look where the plant comes out of the ground - is there a burl? Presence of a burl is a diagnostic trait for this species.
- look at the leaves and stems of the plant - are there lots of hairs? This plant has numerous hairs on leaves and stems.
- look at the height of the plant - usually no taller than 10 feet
The two react differently after fire - Eastwood resprouts from its base, while bigberry relies on its seed and readily produces new plants. The fruits are a wood rat favorite and they happily consume and store the seeds underground.
White, urn-shaped flowers appear in winter - interestingly enough, the plant presets the next years blooms from the previous season. Arctostaphylos glauca usually flower a month or so before Arctostaphylos glandulosa. Manzanitas are buzz pollinated by bumblebees - the bee vibrates its thorax at a specific frequency which causes the flower to release its pollen. In summer, the flowers are followed by large reddish-brown, sticky berries which coyotes and other animals feast on (Arctostaphylos translates to "bear-grape"). Blooming time normally ranges from December to March. The artistic, crooked nature of Manzanita's branches is caused by its flowering; after bloom, branches find a new growth path above the flowers, rather than continuing in the same direction. Bark peels off in shavings once a year, signaling the transition between blooming and dormancy. Leaves are dull green or dark green, hairy, rigid, 1-2 inches long, and oval and pointed. Leaves are nearly always held perpendicular to the sun’s face, an adaptation to limit moisture loss during the summer. Every summer, the outer layer of red bark peels off as the growing green layer underneath expands. Manzanita means "little apple" in Spanish, and its berries have been used by humans for food and drink. Its leaves had various medicinal uses, alleviating the pain and discomfort of headaches, sores and even poison oak.
Manzanita varieties would be attractive plants to have in your garden. If you are so inclined, you may wish to consult the book California Native Plants for the Garden, which devotes 8 pages to the subject. Manzanitas prefer acidic, well-draining soil and a well ventilated location.
Link to Calfora.net - the best source of this fascinating information!
Arctostaphylos – from two Greek words arktos, "bear," and staphule, "a bunch of grapes," referring to the common name of the first-known species, and also perhaps alluding to bears feeding on the grape-like fruits.
glauca – glaucous, from the Greek meaning "bluish-gray," referring primarily to the leaves, and specifically to "bloom," the fine, whitish powder that coats the leaves of certain plants.