The Magnificent Serpentine Manzanita!

Contributed by Bryant Baker

The exquisite bishop or serpentine manzanita (Arctostaphylos obispoensis) is a sight to behold. You can only find it in the Santa Lucia Mountains along California’s Central Coast, primarily in San Luis Obispo County. As one of its common names implies, it has an affinity for serpentine soils.

Here in the rocky, serpentine areas of the mountains you can find it growing alongside other unique plants such as Sargent cypress (as seen in the second photo), Coulter pine, San Luis Obispo sedge, and more.

As with many manzanitas, I’m always drawn to the dead portions of the branches. Known as bark striping, this natural dieback of certain parts of mature plants creates space for lichens to grow. It’s easy to see that lichens don’t grow on the living bark of these manzanitas due to its annual peeling.

I hope you get to come across this magnificent manzanita at some point. If you don’t have it already, pick up a copy of Field Guide to Manzanitas by Michael Kauffmann, Tom Parker, and Michael Vasey, published by Backcountry Press Tom Parker. The second edition is now out and has some excellent information about these beautiful plants. It’s a must-have for any Arctostaphylophile.

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