Jewel of the Chaparral
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s Manzanita Section, featuring more than 50 species and cultivars, is an example of a taxonomic garden. This type of garden is intended to display the variety of a particular group, in this case, manzanitas (the genus Arctostaphylos). Some grow tall as trees, while some stay low and creep along the ground. However, all manzanitas are recognizable by their smooth, deep-red bark and small urn-shaped flowers, which look similar to those of their close relatives, blueberries (Vaccinium sp.). Derived from Spanish, manzanita translates to “little apple” which refers to the appearance and sweet flavor of its small fruits.
Manzanitas are some of the earliest plants to flower in California, and pale pink to white blooms can be seen beginning in January. The tiny apple-shaped fruits are on display February to May, and their beautiful bark is visible year-round.
Form & Function
California is the center of diversity for manzanitas. Perfectly suited to the region’s dry climate, nearly all 105 known subspecies and species of manzanitas are endemic to California. There is remarkable variation, with some species reaching 20 feet (6 meters) in height and others growing less than 1 foot (0.3 meters) tall. Manzanitas have long been prized in ornamental gardening for their striking growth form, while their berries and leaves are used in a multitude of ways by Native Americans, including for medicines and tea.