Local Author Celebrates Manzanita’s Place in California Ecosystem: Michael Kauffmann will be at Eureka Books during Arts Alive on December 5, from 6 to 9 p.m.
Field Guide to Manzanitas
Just west of Arcata, and a seeming world away from the lush redwood forests that make Humboldt County internationally famous, is one of the best places locally to see manzanitas in their natural habitat. According to Michael Kauffmann, co-author of the new Field Guide to Manzanitas, the Lanphere-Christensen Dunes is “a nearly pristine coastal habitat that is home to a fascinating forest, stunted by wind and salt spray, with manzanitas growing underneath.”
Manzanitas, members of the Arctostaphylos genus, are ancient plants that thrive in harsh environments with thin soil. They are also a distinctly California plant. Only one species does not grow in California (it can be found only on the rim of a volcano in Guatemala), and most grow only in California. The common name manzanita comes from the early Spanish explorers, who called the plants “tiny apples”, for their diminutive red fruit.
Ma-le’l Dunes, tucked between Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Ocean, is home to a forest a world away from the Redwoods—including kinnikinnick, or bearberry manzanita.
The bright fruit attract small mammals, which play a key part in the reproduction of many manzanita species. The animals bury the seed-containing fruit, protecting them from the wildfires that periodically sweep the dry landscape where many Arctostaphylos thrive. The seeds germinate when the rainy season returns, and the manzanitas grow back. Less frequently, some manzanitas reproduce from burls, dense accumulations of dormant buds, similar to the burls seen on redwoods, and resprout after periodic fires.
The dramatic red bark of the manzanita makes the plant a memorable sight across California.
The reddish bark and hard, dry leaves of the manzanita makes it easy to pick out in the landscape, but separating one species from another can be quite difficult. Kauffman and his co-authors, Tom Parker and Michael Vasey, the two leading botanists who study Arctostaphylos, set out to simplify identification. “The best way to determine which species you are looking at is to know where you are,” Kauffmann said. “By using the range maps we provide in the Field Guide to Manzanitas, you can eliminate most species. Our taxanomic keys and color pictures will help narrow the possibilities until you know exactly what you are looking at.”
The striking appearance of manzanitas in the wild have encouraged gardeners to plant them in their years. The continuing drought in California has encouraged the trend. The plants are green all year and thrive in dry environments. Their gnarled appearance and characteristic red bark lends interest to a garden. Manzanitas have a high acid content and tend to discourage other plants from taking root underneath them, a sort of natural weed control. “For anyone who wants to invites birds, native bees, and beneficial insects into the garden, manzanitas are a great choice,” said Genevieve Schmidt, a Humboldt County landscaper. “Not only are they drought-tolerant and low-maintenance, but the gorgeously colorful stems and profuse clusters of blooms make them as appealing to gardeners as they are to wildlife.”
Kauffmann will be at Eureka Books during Arts Alive on December 5, from 6 to 9 p.m. to discuss manzanitas and to sign his new book, published by Backcountry Press, a Humboldt County-based publisher specializing in books on the natural world. Kauffman’s appearance will be part of Eureka Books’ annual Local Author Festival, which will include Deb Klingel, author of The Jelly Bean Green Thing, a picture book for children, and Amy Stewart, author of the recent bestseller, Girl Waits with Gun. Pre-signed copies of Eureka-born pop star Sara Bareilles’s memoir Sounds Like Me will also be available.