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Plant Highlight: Arctostaphylos ‘Ruth Bancroft’

February 2004

There are approximately 50 species of Arctostaphylos, commonly known as manzanitas, almost all of them native to western North America (the 2 exceptions have a circumpolar distribution, being found also in northern Eurasia). A preponderance of the species are native to California, and they are common components of chaparral vegetation as well as open-woodlands in many parts of the state. They range from prostrate creepers to small trees, and are valued for their beautiful red-brown, peely-barked trunks and branches, as well as their dainty urn-shaped pendant flower clusters and drought-tolerance. Flower color ranges from pink to white. The genus belongs to the Heath Family (Ericaceae).

Ruth Bancroft has grown a number of different manzanitas, and our cultivar named for her was a seedling that volunteered in the garden, so its parentage is unknown. Over the years it has developed into a shrub or small tree about 10 feet in height, with bluish-green leaves and a profusion of tiny white flowers produced in January-February. Fallen flowers carpet the ground beneath it like a sprinkling of confetti during its blooming period. The trunk and branches are a dark red-brown color, smooth except for occasional small patches of peely flakes.