Strange Manzanita

Some friends took me running from Gaviota to Refugio Rd. We climbed up a road (which Google Maps calls Gaviota Peak Fireroad) and made a slight dodge right to climb to the peak. Thence we followed another road variously called “El Camino Cielo” or “FR 5N19” to Reagan’s Ranch and eventually to Refugio Rd and down to Santa Ynez.

From Gaviota Peak you can see where the coastline turns. There is ocean to the south, and ocean to the west.

On the way up to the peak I noticed a manzanita in bloom. I don’t pay too much attention to manzanitas. Where I run they are either A. glauca (Bigberry) or A. glandulosa (Eastwood’s), and this wasn’t Bigberry so it must be Eastwood’s. Didn’t really think about it.

But on El Camino Cielo I paused at one point to allow others to catch up. And I really looked at the Manzanita. They were all over the place, and they weren’t Eastwood’s either.

The leaves had a very distinctive pattern on the branches, they grew tightly wrapped around it making each branch look like a tube of leaves. The stem was hairy, but practically invisible behind the leaves.

Coming back home I looked at Calflora which lists 16 different manzanitas in SB county. Three of them only grow on the Channel Islands, so they can be ruled out. Two I know, and they can be ruled out. That leaves 11. Seven of these are “rare species” so I tend to rule those out.

That leaves

  • A. crustacea the leaves look nothing like what I saw, and the distribution map does not show it growing where we were running.
  • A. parryana again the leaves are wrong, and the distribution map is even further from where we were.
  • A. pungens ditto
  • A. tomentosa which has hairy leaves, so it’s wrong, and the distribution map does not cover the area we were in.

In fact, if I look at the distribution maps for all species, not one of them seems to in the area where we were running. OK, it’s a bit out of the way, but not that much. And there are lots of manzanitas here.

So looking at the rare species, there’s one called refugioensis which is the right area, but the one which looks most like the leaves I saw is A. purissima, and there is a sighting of it on the Gaviota Peak Fireroad, though none on El Camino Cielo. But it’s hard for me to accept that a plant labeled 1B.1 by the CNPS is actually all over the road. Besides Jepson says it grows below 300m and we saw it between 700m and 900m).

1B.1 means: “Rare, Endangered, Threatened in Ca. and elsewhere”, “meets the definition of the California Endangered Species Act”, “Seriously threatened in California (over 80% of occurrences threatened / high degree and immediacy of threat)”

Arctostaphylos purissima branch2

Arctostaphylos purissima plants


So nine days later I printed out the Jepson key for the manzanita genus and went back. I looked more carefully this time. The first plant I found was at about 350 meters. Still too high for purissima. It had also finished blooming and was producing fruit (a fact which turned out to be lucky, as the fruit size was part of the key).

So I got out the key, and a little ruler just in case:

1. Burls at base of main stem, also above or not; plant sprouting after fire
1′ Burls 0; plant not sprouting after fire

Well, no burls above ground, and I’m not going to try digging into the brick-like soil to see what’s underneath. But as I go further up I find some old burnt snags, presumably left from the 2004 Gaviota Fire. All the plants in the area seem the same size and age. There is no sign that the plants adjacent to the snags got a headstart. So…
No.

30. Leaves with stomata abaxially, surfaces generally different in color and/or hairiness
30′ Leaves with stomata on both surfaces, surfaces similar in color and/or hairiness

Leaves look the same top and bottom.
No.

40. Plant prostrate to prostrate-mounded, 0.1–0.5(3) m
40′ Plant generally erect, occasionally mounded to erect, (0.1)0.3–8 m

Plants are upstanding and more than a meter high
No.

48. Nascent inflorescence bracts fleshy, scoop-shaped or generally scale-like, deltate to awl-shaped, keeled or not
48′ Nascent inflorescence bracts generally leaf-like, flat

Er what?
So I try both branches on this one. The “Yes” branch doesn’t go anywhere useful
No.

74. Old stem bark persistent, gray, shredding (except occasionally smooth on Arctostaphylos osoensis)
74′ Old stem bark smooth, ± red

The bark is red and mostly smooth. (But I’m colorblind)
No.

76. Leaf gray-canescent in youth, glabrous in age
76′ Leaf green to glaucous, glabrous to variously hairy but not gray-canescent

Definitely green with very small hairs around the vein.
No.

83. Leaf base lobed (truncate to lobed in Arctostaphylos viridissima), often clasping (except Arctostaphylos hooveri with longer petiole
83′ Leaf base rounded, truncate, wedge-shaped, or ± lobed, not clasping

I’d say the leaves clasp around the twig
Yes

84. Nascent inflorescence nonglandular-hairy
84′ Nascent inflorescence glandular-hairy

Well the inflorescence is hairy. Don’t know what it was like when “Nascent”, it’s pretty well over now.
No

87. Fruit 10–15 mm wide, spheric; stones fused; s Outer South Coast Ranges/w Western Transverse Ranges (Santa Ynez Mtns) ….. A. refugioensis
87′ Fruit 6–10(15) mm wide, depressed-spheric; stones free; Central Coast, San Francisco Bay Area, Outer South Coast Ranges

The ruler comes into play. Here’s a fruit which is 1.5cm in diameter. And, yes, spherical.
A. refugioensis


Well, if it is Refugio Manzanita it should be around Refugio. So on 25 Feb I went out to Refugio and biked up the road. About half-way up there was a patch of these manzanitas. I went down the back side of the road too, to the point where we picked it up a month ago looking for more, but saw none there (the back side is mostly closed canopy oak forest, not a good environment for manzanitas). Then I went out West Camino Cielo for about 5 miles and found one patch about a mile from Refugio Saddle, but none further east.

So now I need to look west from Gaviota on the off chance it grows there…

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