Greenleaf Manzanita Mystery

Hey, I should actually post something about plants sometime – imagine that. So last weekend we were out and about looking at plants – more on that coming soon – and the highlight of our trip was finding this large Arctostaphylos patula (greenleaf manzanita) in a neighborhood in White Salmon, which is along the Columbia Gorge across from Hood River.

What’s so special about that, you ask? Well, I should provide a little background information.

Greenleaf manzanita is considered to be native to Washington State, but we have learned that it is not at all easy to find and must be considered very rare here. Across the border in Oregon it becomes much more common, where huge specimens are all over the place in eastern Hood River County and western Wasco County, their range extending south from there. In Washington, it has been recorded from Klickitat County and Chelan County.

So far as we have seen, though, these plants occurring in these counties are mostly hybrids with pinemat manzanita (A. nevadensis) or kinnikkinnik (A. uva-ursi), and not clearly, genetically pure A. patula. How do we know? Well, the best we can answer is that we have been looking at them long enough to get a feel for the morphological “center” of these species – as far as key characters such as leaf size and color, plant size, fruit color, and more. With an expectation of “what they are supposed to look like,” we feel like it is possible to make judgments on when something is more or less genetically pure and when it shows evidence of hybridization. Of course, it would take a serious genetic study of these plants to truly sort them out, but we have to do this the old fashioned way basing our judgments on morphology.

An important source of information regarding the distribution of native plants is the WTU Herbarium website, on which we find only a few records of A. patula from Klickitat County. Four of these are from the town of Bingen. (The other one is from near Glenwood: more on that in a moment.) However, we have done quite a bit of driving around Bingen and never managed to find one. So have Mark and Lila at Fairmeadow Nursery. These records are all very old so there is a good chance someone built a house on top of it/them. On the other hand a little more searching the hills around town just might turn up some plants. I have done a little of that on each of my two visits to the area, and I have not found anything yet, but I have still not really devoted enough time to it.

So this is why the plant in White Salmon – just up the hill from Bingen – was an exciting find. Could this be a remnant of the “Bingen population” of A. patula? That is certainly a possibility. But there is a catch. It is worth noting that this plant looks very different from the Glenwood plants. The Glenwood plants are low growing, show evidence of hybridization with A. nevadensis, and very scattered within a population of even lower, clearly hybrid plants: in fact, I think these are all hybrids, since none of them is taller than about 2′ or have leaves as dark as the White Salmon plant. By contrast, the White Salmon plant looks very much like the Mt. Hood area forms of A. patula across the river in Oregon.

So the question remains: did someone plant this, or did it grow here by itself as the last remnant of a now lost population of A. patula in the White Salmon/Bingen area? It is very unlikely that this plant was purchased at a nursery, since nurseries almost never offer it; but it may have been dug from the wild in Oregon and replanted (which usually doesn’t work, but it might have survived as a seedling). The fact that this plant looks so different from the Glenwood plants, and similiar to Mt. Hood plants, might lead me to suspect that possibility. But on the other hand, Glenwood isn’t all that close to White Salmon, so why shouldn’t an A. patula in White Salmon (or Bingen) look like the ones across the river in Oregon? (Although… to complicate things further… we have never seen it at such a low altitude in Oregon. The White Salmon plant is at just 700′ while in the Mt. Hood area it seems to occur pretty much above 2,000′. The Glenwood plants are all at about 1,400′.)

I guess the thing to do would be to talk to the property owner. We didn’t really have time to pursue that over the weekend, but perhaps if I go back next year…

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. george
    Oct 02, 2012 @ 11:53:09

    did you get a sense of how old it is compared to the age of the road? seems like the seeds could have been carried over from hood river on some vehicle- its so close to the road.

    did other plantings around it look intentional?


  2. Ian
    Oct 02, 2012 @ 14:58:22

    Hard to say for sure, but the neighborhood looked like it might be about 40 – 50 years old. This was the relatively neglected corner… farthest from the house… of an otherwise mostly well kept yard/garden.


  3. Desert Dweller
    Oct 03, 2012 @ 07:26:21

    Thought I posted this, but it may not have taken…
    Someone noted this in an e-mail, “I wonder if it isn’t A. columbiana, the more common one close to the coast. The patula species is really common around the Bend area, just south of town.”

    I don’t know, but is that a possibility? A. patula fries in Abq where tried. So far, it’s easier in ABQ to plant Rhaphiolepis for a similar look, though it does lack the exfoliating red bark of a manzanita!


  4. Ian
    Oct 03, 2012 @ 08:14:01

    No, it is certainly not A. columbiana, though A. columbiana grows a few miles to the west of White Salmon. The two are very distinct and easy to tell apart – and it is easy to identify hybrids between the two as well, where they occur (i.e. in Hood River County).

    A patula is pretty difficult to grow, in general – it seems happiest in the wild, but not impossible in gardens, so we will keep trying it. It seems to be exclusive to pretty high altitudes in the Southwest, I think.


  5. Trackback: General Update « THE DESERT NORTHWEST [blog]

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