Sunday, January 10, 2010


Two of my manzanitas are in splendid bloom. These gorgeous plants demand closer inspection. To fully appreciate them, get nose-to-nose with their tiny urn-shaped flowers--if you can find a cluster that isn't abuzz with bees.

Pictured above is the cultivar 'Lester Rowntree.' I'm so pleased to host a plant named for this pioneer (woman) of native plant horticulture. Starting in the 1930s, Rowntree traveled around California, including remote spots (alone), observing its floral and collecting seed.

Manzanitas are slow growers, but reward patient gardeners with sinuous trunks wrapped in red bark. (Photo below from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.)

While watering some blueberry plants sporting petite bell-shaped flowers, I recently wondered if they were members of same family as manzanitas, Ericaceae. They are.

Which makes my 2-year-old's odd preoccupation with eating manzanita's flowers and hard, bitter berries even more intriguing. He was drawn to the flowers after observing bees supping from them.

Manzanita means little apple in Spanish--an apt description for its berries. According to Kent Lightfoot and Otis Parrish in California Indians and Their Environment (yet another excellent natural history book from UC Press), some tribes along the central coast made cider from them. The Miwok dried, pounded and stored manzanita berries, re-hydrating them later. South Coast tribes often ground them into a flour.

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