And the winner is…. Manzanita! I wanted to start off with a pithy poem in honor of one of my favorite shrubs but I couldn’t think of anything to rhyme with manzanita besides pita, cheetah and Rosarita. Anyway, lets learn about this local beauty.
The Plant: Bigberry Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca). One of nearly 100 manzanitas found in California, not to mention well over 100 introduced hybrids. As far as I know
Bigberry manzanita is the only one found in the Ojai area (please correct me if I’m wrong). For those of you who know your spanish manzanita roughly translates to “little apple”, referring to the fruit which are extremely popular with local fauna. Elegant smooth dark red bark contrasts with light green leaves and white to light pink flowers. Sculpted twisty trunks can reach up to 15 feet high and wide. Flowering occurs between December and March, and are a favorite of hummingbirds and bees. Fruits will hang on the tree from May until the bears finish them off by late summer.
Where do I find them? The OVLC River preserve trails have some truly glorious specimens, all very easy to reach. In fact there is a large one right at the northmost Oso parking lot. Kennedy ridge, and Gridley also have a few but they are most abundant on the river bottom, no crossing necessary.
Chumash & other Native uses: The berries were usually dried and ground into a meal. The skins were usually discarded but there is evidence that they could be used to make a beverage. The wood imparts a nice flavor to fish, I’ve seen a modern recipe calling for a fire of manzanita wood. Personally I wouldn’t eat the berries, but if you want to give it a shot they aren’t poisonous. (Thanks to Jan Timbrook’s Chumash Ethnobotany for the info)
Propagation: Challenging for an amateur like me. Cuttings take quite a while, I’m still hoping for our first success. Supposedly 1-2 months you should see some roots. Seeds are even harder, some take years, there are all kinds of treatments recommended to get through the hard seed coat. I say just go visit Tony at Nopalito Nursery in Ventura and he’ll show you all sorts of garden ready specimens.
In the Garden: With so many varieties and hybrids to choose from you can find a
manzanita for almost any situation. You’ll need at least part sun (Howard McMinn, Sentinel, Sunset, groundcovers), though full sun is preferable. Most also prefer to be dry during summer and fall but some varieties can handle occasional water (good ole Howard McMinn again). Sizes range from crawly twisted ground covers (uva-ursi) to magnificent
gnarly 15 foot small trees (Dr. Hurd). Flowers ranging from pure white bunches (White Cloud) to radiant pink (Pajaroensis hybrids), blooming as early as November (Refugiensis) and as late as March (Howie one more time). If there is one caveat, they are slow, be patient, very little may happen the first year or two.
So get out there and track down some manzanitas. Blooms are already starting to disappear and drought certainly hasn’t helped. Check Las Pilitas’ site for a great list and pictures of all the hybrids and species available for your garden