Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mission Manzanitas Uncovered

When we first moved out to our property in 2006, I discovered that we had a beautiful old Mission Manzanita tree  (Xylococcus bicolor), about 8 feet in height, growing in the middle of a small chaparral stand that we had set aside for preservation when our home was under construction. At first, I couldn't figure out what it was - it had the beautiful reddish-brown twisted bark reminiscent of a Manzanita, but it also had these odd, leathery, elliptical-shaped leaves that were sort of curled or rolled under, and a profusion of little black berries. I was stumped - was this some kind of manzanita-ceanothus-oak-elderberry experiment gone wrong?

1/31/10 Mission Manzanita (Xylococcus bicolor). A wild cucumber vine (Marah macrocarpus) went to town last summer and strung itself up all over the tree. The dead remnants of the vine are now hanging off it like TP on a house after homecoming. 

Anyhoo, after pouring through all my plant guides and floras, I finally found a photo of the Mission Manzanita in the field guide, San Diego Native Plants, by James Lightner, and then it all clicked. A further cross check with the Jepson manual confirmed the ID. Seems to be a chaparral plant confined to California's South Coast, Santa Catalina Island, and the north coast of Baja. Not a true Manzanita, but a kissing cousin.

1/31/10 Mission Manzanita (Xylococcus bicolor)

Flash forward three and a half years later to today, January 31, 2010. This afternoon, as I was trekking up the hill on the east side of our property, I saw a super-juicy "shrub" covered with tiny white blossoms along the fence line with one of our neighbors. Upon closer inspection, ANOTHER Mission Manzanita!! It was always there, in plain view, gone unnoticed until now. Words fail me. 

1/31/10 Berries on Mission Manzanita

1/31/10 2nd Mission Manzanita which I "discovered" today, studded with blooms. Hummingbirds were staking out their turf on this one with their aerial fly-bys. 

There's much to appreciate in the Southern California winter gardenscape. The Ceanothus and a few of the Salvias are budded, with some already blooming. To top it off, the Juncos and White-Crowned Sparrows are mixing it up with the resident Lesser Goldfinches, Scrub Jays, House Finches, and California Towhees.

1/31/10 Male Dark-Eyed Junco with Lesser Goldfinch

1/31/10 Immature (first winter) White-Crowned Sparrow

1/31/10 Female Dark-Eyed Junco

1/31/10 California Thrasher

1/30/10 Lesser Goldfinch

1/31/10 'Valley Violet' Maritime Ceanothus (Ceanothus maritimus)

1/31/10 Hoary-leaved Ceanothus (Ceanothus crassifolius).
Native to the property.

Nothing sums up my feelings about the unfortunate naming of this noble staple of our chaparral community better than this oh-so-sage pondering from Las Pilitas Nursery:
"Who would make up the name Hoary Leaf Ceanothus? I mean, what were they thinking? Gray or white with age, covered with gray hairs, or so old as to inspire? How about Southern California Lilac, or Gray Leaved White Lilac? I mean I can't image a customer wandering in asking for Hoary Leaved Ceanothus. Horny Bush I could believe." 


1/31/10 Moonset at 6:30am this morning. Friday, Jan. 29th was supposed to be the brightest moon of the year. Well, I missed it, so here's the next bestest.

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