An Ode to Manzanita

Photo taken by Marc Gabor of Big Sur Manzanita (Arctostaphylos edmundsii) during our Animal Tracking Campout in Big Sur last Fall.

Photo taken by Marc Gabor of Big Sur Manzanita (Arctostaphylos edmundsii) during our Animal Tracking Campout in Big Sur last Fall.

Favorite food of Bear, Fox, Coyote, and Human People: sticky sweet Manzanita berries. The high sugar content and natural yeast that collects on these “little apples” makes for easy fermentation. Much cider has been brewed from Manzanita since time immemorial in California. When these berries pop in late Summer / early Fall, many creatures celebrate. 

The leaves and bark are chocked full of medicines and can be used to treat headaches, sores, colds, cramps, diarrhea, poison oak dermatitis, and more.

Characteristic of all Manzanita species are small, cup-shaped, downward pointing flowers. A downcast flower is advantageous if you flower in the wet season, but it means you need very sticky pollen. Wherever you find varieties of Manzanita, you will also find a native bee that fits perfectly in that particular flower. To loosen the sticky pollen these bees beat their wings at a particular frequency (or note) – Big Sur Manzanita releases pollen when bees buzz in the key of “C”!

Manzanita’s red bark photosynthesizes sunlight, meaning these enterprising plants utilize a broader spectrum of light than many other species – essential for their survival in marginal soils. In Big Sur you’ll often find Manzanita in decomposed granite or sandstone with very little organic matter.