Franciscan Manzanita: See It Now!

Franciscan Manzanita.jpeg
© California Academy of Sciences
Well, hello...
This week, SF Weekly reported on the long-awaited designation of San Francisco's native Franciscan manzanita as a federally protected endangered species. This overdue pronouncement finally curtails a yearslong part-Kafka, part-Heller situation in which the very last Franciscan manzanita in the wild wasn't due the protection provided to an "endangered" species because it was officially classified as "extinct." (Monty Python geeks can add an "I'm not dead yet" joke here).

The Franciscan manzanita will now have 318-odd acres on which to thrive. But sending curious hordes out to trample the sprawling, foot-high shrubs seems counterproductive. Yet those interested in seeing San Francisco's eponymous plant have options. In fact, they always have.

The last Franciscan manzanitas seen in the wild prior to the shocking 2010 discovery of a bush in the path of the Doyle Drive reconstruction were growing at the former Laurel Hill Cemetery. James Roof, who is to local botany what Willie Mays is to local baseball, ran in front of the bulldozers clearing the area and took several cuttings of the doomed manzanitas.

The descendents of Roof's samples are still thriving, and doing so in the same place as so many former San Franciscans forced out of this city: the East Bay.

Joe Eskenazi
The Raven's manzanita
Located at the side of a babbling brook, the Franciscan manzanita at the the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Berkeley's Tilden Park is particularly lovely. Just down the hill, you can also find a Franciscan at the UC Botanical Garden. While you're at it, don't forget to visit the Franciscan's close relative and fellow San Francisco native, the gravely endangered Raven's manzanita (that's the UC's Raven's manzanita in the photo to the right).

Both Tilden and the UC received many clippings of the plant discovered on Doyle Drive. So did the San Francisco Botanical Garden; the Arboretum at the University of California, Santa Cruz; and the Presidio's native plants nursery. The Presidio hasn't returned SF Weekly's calls, but the good folks at the San Francisco Botanical Garden assured us that "many" Franciscan manzanitas can be seen in the native plant garden. 

As we wrote about the Raven's manzanita back in 2008, the Franciscan isn't the sort of thing folks give each other on Valentine's Day:

The mythical endangered plant you'd hack through the jungle to behold in a Hollywood adventure film would be a 12-foot tiger-striped behemoth with orchid-like flowers as wide as dinner plates and tureen-sized pitchers capable of digesting large rodents.

Raven's manzanita, however, stands roughly shoulder-high to a Barbie doll. Past battles with a fungal pathogen have left it with several unsightly brown patches. Just inches off the ground, its dime-sized, round leaves ripple in the constant Pacific wind while its delicate, pearl-white flowers dangle like inverted wine glasses. Its gnarled red branches are no thicker than pick-up sticks. It's not what you would call ... majestic. When viewed from afar, it's rather unremarkable -- except for the fact that it's the last of its kind.

Beauty, however, is in the eye of the beholder. Now you know where to behold it.

Note: The Franciscan manzanitas at Tilden are clones of Roof's cuttings. The plants at U.C. were obtained in 1953.

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