Glossyleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos nummularia) is a bit unassuming at first glance; not as tall or graceful as common manzanita, which I posted about a few days ago. But it still caught my eye, nestled in the scrub on a flank of Mt. Tam. The shiny, roundish leaves are often rimmed with red; the twigs look notably furred with long white hairs. And of course, there are the flowers–the classic manzanita lantern shape, though when keying note it has only four petals unlike the five-petalled type more common in this area. glossyleaf manzanita is mainly found from Santa Cruz to Mendocino counties.
I found myself reflecting today about the nuance necessary for appreciating our scrublands. I love them, but I know to many they can look like a mass of grayish green. For me, keying species–or doing nature drawings, or photography; any discipline that helps me take the time to look closely–is really helpful for starting to see the richness of this landscape. The sea of bushes is often a riot of different species, intermingled. Here is the shiny roundness of glossyleaf manzanita, there are the jagged blades of Yerba Santa, here are the fine leaves of chamise, and so on. Walking through the scrub begins to feel more like walking into a room full of old friends; each with their own personality, but still mingling comfortably.
On a hillside above the bay, the ground is covered with tiny, bell-shaped flowers so thick they look like a January snow fell here. Overhead, bees and hummingbirds are busy among the myriad blooms covering the arching, red-limbed shrubs, growing in places into low trees. This is a beautiful patch of common manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita) alongside the Turtleback Nature Trail at China Camp State Park, but is prime bloom time for this and many species of manzanita that occur throughout the area, so get out and enjoy them if you can!
This fantastic genus can be daunting to key, as the different species appear very similar at first, but the Marin Flora breaks them down so the local ones are not actually difficult (though when you go farther afield, it can get much more daunting). And even if you don’t want to key them – still go see them. Maybe bring a companion, a book, or a picnic. They are a delight, and worth spending a bit of time with. Common manzanita has a graceful, tall growth form that is particularly inviting. If you happen to be accompanied by a toddler, as I was, then you can likely spend an easy hour in the “castles” beneath their branches.
The name “manzanita” means “little apple”, and like apples, the fruits of these shrubs were once a cherished staple among local tribes. The fruit of the small berries has a mealy texture, but a lovely sweet flavor–go ahead and take a nibble next time you see some. The edible seeds were ground to make pinole, and the fruit can be crushed and soaked to make manzanita cider or jelly.