Interesting local manzanitas

Last Sunday I went on another search for some interesting forms of our native manzanita species, primarily A. columbiana and A. x media.  It’s not quite worth a collection trip report (well, maybe it is), but I thought should at least post something to show how interesting these oft-forgotten native plants can be.  This time I thought I would explore the wilds of the southwest part of the Kitsap Peninsula.  Civilization quickly fizzles out as you go south and west from Bremerton, passing Gold Mountain, Tiger Lake, and entering an interesting plateau-like area of rather rugged terrain.  As you go west, the usual fir-hemlock-cedar-maple forest gives way to relatively more open pine-oak forests with an understorey of evergreen huckleberry, and in many places, Ceanothus velutinus and manzanita.

The first place I found something really interesting was along Dewatto Rd. west of Panther Lake.  First I saw A. columbiana, then I noticed A. uva-ursi everywhere – so I figured it must be a good place to look for A. x media.  After stopping the car and looking around, I found several low-growing forms of it that looked basically like a large-leafed kinnikkinnik.  I also found this:

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Looks like A. columbiana, right?  Well, this plant was a little different.  At under 3′ tall this plant is low and compact and has the appearance of being near its mature height.  Others in the area were more upright.  This one also had more congested leaves.  Is it A. x media or just a variation on A. columbiana?  Who knows!

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This is definitely A. x media, and the largest/most conspicuous one I found in the area.  It’s hard to get a feel for scale in this picture but this plant is about 2′ tall with rather large leaves exceeding 1″ long, larger than any I have yet seen on A. x media.

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Driving a little further, I spotted this A. columbiana plant with exceptionally large, soft leaves.  The yellow fruit is also cool, but it will probably turn red as it ripens.  The owner of this plant is one of the few people I have encountered in my travels who actually cares about manzanita or native plants.  Initially he tried to scare me off but after a respectful discussion he graciously let me have a cutting to propagate this outstanding form.  Ignoring floral characteristics, this plant strongly resembles A. cansecens I have seen in Oregon.  The hairs were much softer than usual for A. columbiana.

A little more driving took us to Forest Spring Rd.  Now we were really out in the booneys with no houses or anything for miles, as far as I could tell.  Who would have thought that such a remote area could exist so close to civilization?  And who would have expected to find so many interesting plants?  Now Ceanothus velutinus was everywhere and innumerable variations on Arctostaphylos columbiana grew along the road.

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Wow!  This one sure jumped out at me (not literally, but almost) – I haven’t seen any A. columbiana quite like this – with such long, tapered, pale leaves.  It strongly resembles A. canescens subsp. sonomiensis (again, ignoring floral characteristics).

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This is probably the best blue form of A. columbiana I found.  I also found some with larger than usual crops of fruit or flowers.

Arctostaphylos columbiana has a reputation for being somewhat finnicky in cultivation, compared to more easily grown hybrids of California origin (‘Louis Edmonds’, ‘Sunset’, etc.).  It is my hope that some of the forms I have collected as cuttings on this and other trips will result in A. columbiana forms that have superior ornamental value and ease of growth.

Do some of these plants represent other species besides just A. columbiana?  One has to wonder, given the vast difference in leaf and stem morphology.  The answer may be no, since the unique plants I have found so far have been isolated individuals within a population of what are clearly A. columbiana.  Because of this I suspect a laboratory genetic analysis might tell us they are all one species.  Another possibility is that A. canescens used to occur in this area, and has gone extinct from Washington but left some of its genes behind as hybrids with A. columbiana.

Stay tuned – I have still left the farthest reaches of the southwest Kitsap Peninsula unexplored: it will have to wait for another trip!

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