The canyons and chaparral habitats in the Anza Valley have been alive with the buzz of bees pollinating manzanita shrubs as they bloom during January and February.
There are about 43 different species of manzanita found in California. The name “manzanita” is derived from the Spanish phrase, ‘little apple.’ Manzanita berries do resemble tiny versions of the fruit.
Described as a large shrub, manzanita are well adapted to specific habitats that they grow together in groups called manzanita barrens.
The bright green to bluish gray or gray green, thick, leathery leaves and mahogany-toned and gray trunks are unmistakable, along with the honey-like scent and bunches of thick, waxy, white to pink, urn-shaped flowers.
There are three species in the San Jacinto Mountain area. Some varieties bloom in winter, and others bloom in spring.
The average manzanita lives 25-50 years, but some have been documented at a century in age.
Some manzanita species in California are threatened or endangered in the wild. Regeneration of most of these plants is fire dependent, and fire suppression efforts can cause a sharp decline in their populations. The Santa Cruz manzanita, Arctostaphylos andersonii, is endangered, as is Pajaro manzanita, Arctostaphylos pajaroensis, which was recognized as at risk as early as the 1930s in its natural range in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. Some of these shrubs are preserved in the wild, protected by the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve.
The manzanita has a long history as a plant beneficial to the indigenous peoples of California. The berries were collected when ripe and eaten raw, as well as cooked into beverages or jellies for later use.
The Cahuilla people also used the strong trunk wood to make tools, such as awl handles and smoking pipes. They even dried out manzanita leaves and smoked them in pipes to bring good luck.
This spring, the bees are enjoying the blooming manzanita for all the nectar and pollen they can collect.
Diane Sieker can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.