Plant of the day: Eastwood manzanita

A hillside is covered in a thick tangle of shrubs with slim red-barked trunks. These trunks are gorgeous, often growing close together and brilliant in the shadow of the dense foliage above. The deep red bark is so smooth that it looks like an artist has carved it from red clay; the curves and lines somehow remind me of strong human arms.

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There are nearly a dozen species of manzanita growing in Marin County alone–and superficially they all look very similar, with red trunks; clusters of small lantern-shaped white flowers; and rounded and leathery leaves. They are a critically important part of California’s chaparral ecosystem.

Eastwood manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa) has little, leaflike bracts that grow interspersed with the flowers of each cluster. This species resprouts after fire (which historically was very common in the chaparral) and at ground level it forms a flattened, platform-like burl which grows as it ages. Though sometimes this feature can be hidden under the duff. And lastly, the leaves have flat margins and look the same on both upper and lower surfaces. If a manzanita has all of these characteristics then you’re looking at an Eastwood. They often are hairy, but the species is very variable and as far as I know this isn’t a diagnostic feature.

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