Tag Archives: chaparral

Plant of the day: glossyleaf manzanita

Another manzanita to follow on the heels of yesterday’s. Glossyleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos sensitiva, formerly known as A. nummularia) is a beautiful plant. Small, glossy leaves grow densely along slim branches that are often conspicuously covered in long pale hair. This is the only manzanita in the area to have only 4 petals, and the white lantern-shaped flowers have a paler patch at their base, so the flesh of the petal seems nearly translucent where it joins the stem.

Glossyleaf manzanita is also called shatterberry, because its fruits break into pieces while still on the plant. According to the Marin flora, the long berries look so unlike other (round) manzanita fruits that it was initially thought to be in a different genus entirely.

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Plant of the day: coastal sagebrush

The haunting smell of sagebrush is iconic for anyone who has spent time outdoors in the west. There are many different species, and though they go by different names (sagebrush, sagewort, wormwood) the smells are all similar. It’s a pungent, spicy fragrance that speaks of campfires and starry nights and open spaces.

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Coastal sagebrush (Artemisia californica) is the only shrubby sagebrush in Marin; the species grows only in California and Baja. You can usually find it along the coast or in chaparral communities. It has narrow, linear leaves that sometimes branch like the tines of a pitchfork. The flowers are unobtrusive–small yellowish-green or reddish-green discs. The smell is classic sagebrush.

Historically, some tribes used a tea made from Coastal sagebrush as a female tonic. It was used to induce menstruation, as well as to ease and recover from childbirth. Women drank the tea at the start of their cycle, and it was fed to one-day-old newborns to cleanse their system. It was also used to treat colds, headaches, and to desensitize those suffering from hay fever. Dried leaves were smoked in a mix with tobacco, and used in sweathouses. Bundles of sagebrush branches were hung along trails leading to shrines. The wood was also used for arrows, fire sticks and windbreaks.

Dusky-footed woodrats love to eat it.

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Plant of the day: coyote brush

Small white flowers are beginning to bud and bloom on a sweet-smelling bush of the chaparral. This is coyote brush, or Baccharis pilularis. For some reason that I can’t put my finger on, I find this a particularly charming plant. Its small leaves are scalloped at the edges and rough (and sometimes sticky) to the touch. On hot days, you can tell it’s nearby just from the resinous, pleasant smell.

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Coyote brush blooms in late summer and early fall, and bears its male and female flowers on separate plants (the botanical word for this is “dioecious”, as opposed to most plants which are “monoecious” and have their male and female parts on the same plant, usually in the same flower).

You can find coyote brush growing from Baja California to Tillamook County, Oregon; from coastal scrub to foothill forests. Generally its an upright shrub, but along the coast it can also grow in a prostrate form that once was (but no longer is) considered a different species.

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