Plant Profile: Arctostaphylos edmundsii

Arctostaphylos edmundsii (Little Sur Manzanita)

California native plants are often presumed to be scraggly, untidy and generally “less appealing” than other non-native ornamentals.  We sought to question that premise early in the re-thinking of our gardens.  To our pleasant surprise, we stumbled upon, among others, a varietal of Arctostaphylos edmundsii known as ‘Carmel Sur Manzanita’.  This tidy little manzanita forms a tight clustering evergreen ground cover and has found a prominent place in our gardens among other equaly tidy natives such as Rhamnus californica (coffee berry) and Ribes viburnifolium (catalina perfume).   A profile of the plant follows a few photos, which like proud parents, we can’t help but share.

Overview

The Arctostaphylos genus consists of dicots in the form of groundcover, shrubs and small trees, some prostrate and others more erect.  These plants are members of the Ericaceae Family (see here for a profile of the Ericaceae Family).  The Jepson Manual (TJM) attributes 62 different species to the Arctostaphylos genus.   The USDA Plants database identifies 76 species within the Arctostaphylos genera, and characterizes Artostaphylos edmundsii as endemic to (only found naturally in) Calfornia.  See the distribution map at:  http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ARED.

According to TJM, Arctostaphylos edmundsii is found in California primarily in sandy terraces, bluffs and maritime chaparral.  See the more specific locations of its natural occurrences here: http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/get_JM_treatment.pl?3449,3454,3468.   

Arctostaphylos edmundsii is listed as a rare, threatened or endangered species according to the California Native Plant Society’s Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants (found here), and there are only 6 to 20 known occurrences in the wild (so why not do your part and plant a few in your gardens?!)

Taxonomy

Arctostaphylos edmundsii was first recognized by J.T. Howell in 1952 in Leaflets of Western Botany per the CNPS .  Arctostaphylos edmundsii is most commonly known as Little Sur Manzanita. The varietal shown above is ‘Carmel Sur Manzanita’. 

Observable Identifying Characteristics

General:  Low, mounding groundcover, with light to dark green leaves.   The Carmel Sur Varietal shown above is not more than 6 inches high, and spreads to approximately 3 feet in width.  Drought-resistant, but adapts to normal ornamental garden (though we now have it on restricted drip every 15 days).  Grows best in part shade.

Leaves:  Evergreen, simple, very short petiole, adaxially (top) slightly puberulent (tiny hairs), abaxially glabrous or slightly puberulent, roughly 1.5x as long as wide, round to ovate, entire (non-serrated/lobed) margins

Inflorescence and Flowers:  Terminal clusters, racemose to umbellate, tiny, pendent, urn-like, white to pink, actinomorphic (mirror image in any plane if bi-sected), classic urn-like flower of the Ericaceae Family, appearing in early to mid-winter.

Stems:  Woody, twig like, reddish-brown nearest base

Fruit:  Not yet observed in our gardens, but expecting tiny, reddish-brown compressed sphere like

Compatible Plantings: In our gardens, a mass planting of Carmel Sur Manzanita serves as ground cover in front of Rhamnus californica (coffeeberry).  Another mass planting of its relative, Arctostaphylos uva-vursi ‘Point Reyes Manzanita’ is also in the same part of the gardens, as well as Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’, Arctostaphylos viridissima, and Arctostaphylos ‘Mama Bear Manzanita’. Manzanita Mania!

Sources:

The Jepson Manual, Vascular Plants of California, 2nd Edition, edited by Bruce G. Baldwin et al.

Flora of North America:  http://floranorthamerica.org/ 

Missouri Botanical Garden, Tropicos:  http://www.tropicos.org/Home.aspx

USDA Plant Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/

California Native Plant Society:  http://www.cnps.org/

Las Pilitas Nursery:  http://www.laspilitas.com/

California Native Plants for the Garden, Carol Bornstein, David Fross and Bart O’Brien, Cachuma Press

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