This month we honor the manzanita, an evergreen shrub (sometimes a small tree) native to the western portion of our continent. This is one prolific species: there are 105 of them in the genus Arctostaphylos. And 95 of those species and subspecies occur in the Mediterranean climate zones and lower mountain areas of California, in our coastal areas, and as landscape plants in water-smart gardens. Manzanitas thrive in areas with marginal soils and on very little water. What makes them even more distinctive as a landscape choice is their attractive, smooth deep orange / red bark and the artful silhouettes created by their stiff and twisting branches. They are one of the first natives to flower – as early in the year as late January and into February – which means they provide sustenance to hungry pollinators when little else is available. The berries of many species, formed in spring and summer, are also edible. The common name translates from Spanish as “little apple,” which is what their berries resemble. Manzanitas come in a huge range of shapes and sizes, from low growing ground covers to small (up to twenty feet tall) trees. It’s interesting to note that locally many drought-tolerant natives are showing the strain of our abysmal winter rainfall, while manzanitas are, at least for now, holding their own!
Photographer: Laura Kling