Image of the Week: Arctostaphylos

Week of Jan. 20

Arctostaphylos Photo: Max Odland

Photo: Max Odland

With bold, twisted, red and gray trunks and thick, vertical, evergreen leaves, it’s hard not to notice manzanitas as you walk through California’s chaparral-dominated foothills. Especially when the setting sun illuminates their leaves from behind, revealing their intricately patterned veins.

Those veins carry water to thirsty leaves for photosynthesis. That water evaporates into the air, and draws more water up to take it’s place. All day, every day. The trouble is, sometimes there’s no water to replace the water being siphoned to the sky, and plants have to cut their losses. Most flowering plants drop their leaves to stem the dehydrating flow, but not this manzanita. Its thick, fuzzy leaves are water-tight enough to see it safely through the winter.

There are about 40 species of manzanita (genus Arctostaphylos) in california, that range from tiny, ground-hugging plants to large, vaguely psychedelic-looking shrubs. Looking into the group a little more, I was surprised to learn that it includes bearberry, an edible alpine ground-cover that I snacked on while hiking in Alaska.

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