Where I grew up on Vancouver Island, coming across a Hairy manzanita (Arctostaphylos columbiana) could tell you something about the history of that particular place. It could tell you, for example, that there was probably a wildfire there in recent decades (or centuries, depending on the size of the bush). It would also tell you something about the microclimate and characteristics of that spot: probably a south-facing slope, probably with moderately poor or thin soil, and probably very warm and dry during the summer months. A manzanita bush in decline is a sign that the landscape in that particular spot is changing. Larger conifers or arbutus trees (Arbutus menziesii) are beginning to outgrow and shade the manzanita. Whatever fire caused it to germinate and sprout probably happened some time ago, and in a few decades, there may be no manzanitas left in that place. But you might also be reminded that manzanitas will probably reappear somewhere nearby, after a fire or within a clearcut, and maybe even more often as the climate warms and fires become more frequent. Manzanitas can help you read the history of a landscape, but they can also show you something about what the future holds.
Author: David Patterson
Herbarium Image in Header:
Herbarium Image courtesy of Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria Specimen Database (CPNWH). 2017.
Data provided by: Marion Ownbey Herbarium, Washington State University. Website http://www.pnwherbaria.org (accessed May 17, 2018)