North Coast Chapter - CNPS

Common and Easily Recognized

Manzanitas of Northwest California

by John Sawyer

In March 1986 Darlingtonia (Vol.12, no.1 ), I presented a set of keys to the common manzanitas of our area. For those that do not have the North Coast Chapter’s newsletter of twelve years ago for whatever reason, I am presenting a new version. There is a high probability that most plants that you see in the field belong to one of 10 species. One way to start is by recognizing the common species. Later take on the rare ones, and the subspecies and varieties. Even some of the common ones are found in predictable habitats; learn them that way. If you know that only a few species grow, say in the montane elevations, then you only need to remember a few habit characters to identify them.


1. Plants grow in the mountains among true firs and montane chaparral ---->2

2. Shrubs are upright ---->Greenleaf manzanita, A. patula

2' Shrubs are prostrate ---->Pinemat manzanita, A. nevadensis

1' Plants grow at low elevations among Douglas-fir, tanoak, madrone, or oaks; chaparral; or along the coast ---->3

3. Growing along the coast on dunes, in coastal scrub, or Sitka spruce or redwood forests. ---->4

4.Marine terraces of Mendocino Co. ---->Glossyleaf manzanita, A.nummularia

4' Coastal areas other than marine terraces of Mendocino Co. ---->5

5. Shrubs are prostrate ---->Bearberry, A. uva-ursa

5' Shrubs are upright ---->Columbia manzanita, A. columbiana

3' Growing inland in Douglas-fir - tanoak forests, chaparral, or woodlands ---->The five species that grow here will require more than location and habitat to distinguish them.


1. Shrubs are prostrate, less than 0.6 m high ---->2

2. Young branches have obvious, long bristles and hairs

----> Glossyleaf manzanita, A. nummularia

2' Young branches lack obvious, long bristles and hairs ---->3

3. Leaf tips are rounded, and fruits are red ---->Bearberry, A. uva-ursi

3' Leaf tips are acute, or rounded with short, abrupt tips, and fruits are brown ---->Pinemat manzanita, A. nevadensis

1'. Shrubs are erect, more than 0.6 m high ---->4

4. Leaves less than 10 mm long, and fruits laterally

compressed, splitting open at maturity ---->Glossyleaf manzanita, A. nummularia

4'. Leaves greater than 10 mm long, and fruits round, not splitting open at maturity ---->5

5. Inflorescence bracts, especially the lower ones long and leafy ---->6

6. Leaves and branches are covered with fine, white hairs giving the plants a gray, ashy hue. Branchlets lack long bristly hairs ---->Hoary manzanita, A. canescens

6' Leaves and branches not covered with fine, white hairs. Branchlets have long bristly hairs ---->7

7. Plants have an enlarged burl, and fruits are covered with sticky hairs ---->Eastwood manzanita, A. glandulosa

7'. Plants lack an enlarged burl, and fruits lack sticky hair ---->Columbia manzanita, A. columbiana

5' Inflorescence bracts are short and triangular to awl-shaped ---->8

8. Flower stalks are glabrous or with fine hairs, but not sticky to the touch ---->9

9. Flower stalks are very slender, and flowers are very small, less than 6 mm long ---->Stanford manzanita, A. stanfordiana

9' Flower stalks are stout, and flowers are large, more than 6 mm long ---->Common manzanita, A. manzanita

8' Flower stalks are covered with glandular hairs that are sticky to the touch ---->10

10.Leaves are bright green ---->Greenleaf manzanita, A. patula

10'.Leaves are white or ashy-green ---->Whiteleaf manzanita, A. visicda

My "personal key" that lets me identify manzanitas without a book goes like this: "There are three common prostrate manzanitas. Pinemat manzanita is in the mountains. If I am on the coast, bearberry is common, but look for the bristly glossyleaf manzanita in Mendocino Co. The other manzanitas are erect shrubs, including the bristly glossyleaf manzanita. Three have leafy inflorescences; the ashy-gray one is hoary manzanita, the inland Eastwood manzanita has a burl, and the coastal Columbia manzanita does not. The really white-leafed one is properly called whiteleaf manzanita. Greenleaf manzanita grows in the mountains with whiteleaf manzanita. The common one at low elevations is common manzanita unless the plants have very thin flower stalks, then that one is Sanford manzanita." In a later Darlingtonia, I will take up the rare North Coast species.

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California Native Plant Society - North Coast Chapter
P.O. Box 1067 Arcata, CA 95518-1067
Last updated March 1998