(Plant Identification for everyone)

Marin County  |  Plant Groups

Marin Manzanitas

Manzanitas have characteristic thick oval leaves, red bark, and bunches of tiny urn-shaped flowers.  However, deciding which of the 7 prominent Marin manzanitas you’re looking at can be tricky, because differences are subtle and shrubs of the same species will vary based on water, soil, and sun exposure.

The table below will help you consider several characteristics, which is generally required when identifying a Manzanita.  I really like the process of feeling leaf surfaces, inspecting flower bases, looking for the burl, and considering location to arrive at my best guess.   The more you do it, the better you’ll get.





Base of flowers (bracts)

Eastwood Manzanita


Common in Marin chaparral.

Burl at stem base.  Bushy.  Up to 8 feet tall.

Rigid and brittle feeling.  Leaves can feel like sandpaper.

Small fuzzy leaves.

Hoary Manzanita


Not very common, found on south-facing sandstone slopes.

No burl.  Fewer branches than Eastwood.  Up to 8 feet.

Pale from white hair.  Softer to the touch than Eastwood.

Small fuzzy leaves.



Fairly common on rocky ridges of Mt. Tam area.

No burl.  Leaf cover often like a hedge.  Up to 8 feet.

Dark, shiny green leaves.  Underside paler and smoother.

Red with bumps.  Flower has only 4 petals.

Tamalpais Manzanita


Only on high serpentine slopes.

No burl.  Mostly a low bushy shrub under 2 feet.

Smaller than Eastwood.  Very short hairs.  Not sandpapery.

Small brownish scales.

Marin Manzanita


Uncommon on maritime chaparral ridges near Bishop Pine or Redwood.

No burl.  Often twisted red stem.  Often over 8 feet tall.

Long and thinner than other manzanitas.  Shiny green, hairy.  Rough, sticky.

Small sticky leaves at base of flower.  Fruit is very sticky and bristly.



Only on exposed ocean-facing slopes at Point Reyes.

No burl.  Grows low to the ground, under 1 foot tall.

Dark green, shiny, small, thick and stiff.  About 1” long.

Red and pink flowers.

Common Manzanita


Non-serpentine hills north of Kentfield and San Rafael.

No burl.  Large - often grows tree height.

Oval and thick.

Small and scale-like.

Eastwood Manzanita

Arctostaphylos glandulosa

 ssp. cushingiana and ssp.glandulosa


Common on dry rocky slopes and ridges.


More common than all other Marin manzanitas combined.


Only Marin Manzanita with a burl.


· Blooms Jan – March.

· Always grows out of an exposed root ball (burl).

· Leaves are rigid; brittle feeling.

· Leaves of subspecies glandulosa feel like fine sandpaper when rubbed; the more common subspecies cushingiana leaves feel smooth.

· Hairy stem, leaves and berries.  Hairs sometimes show little drops of sap at the end.

· Flower is urn shaped, and whitish pink.

· Flowers grow in a drooping bunch, joined together at a common source.

· Behind the flowers, tiny, hairy, pale leaves (bracts) tilt towards the flower.

· Fruit is a dusky red dented sphere.

Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. glandulosa_Eastwood Manzanita_Railroad Grade_1989-04-06__WF--__WF

Eastwood branches always grow out of a burl.

Eastwood Manzanita_Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. glandulosa_Matt Davis Trail on Mt. Tam_2009-04-18__KF-__KF

Flower stems (pedicels) come together to a common point.

Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. glandulosa_Eastwood Manzanita_Mountain Theater_1983-03-26__WF Leaves are rigid and feel like sandpaper.

Eastwood Manzanita 2_Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. glandulosa_Matt Davis Trail on Mt. Tam_2009-04-18__KF-__KF

Behind the flower, tiny leaves (bracts) tilt towards flower.

Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. glandulosa_Eastwood Manzanita_1975-03-01__WF

Close-up shows sap oozing from hair-end glands.

Eastwood Manzanita Burl

Mature bush with burl and red bark.

Hoary Manzanita

Arctostaphylos canescens


Generally limited to south-facing sandstone slopes


No burl.


· Blooms Jan – April.

· No burl, so branches do not all grow out of a single point.

· Leaves are hairy, but softer  and less brittle than  Eastwood.

· Hairs, stems and leaves do not have glands, and so do not ooze sap, and often appear paler than Eastwood.

· Behind the flowers are small, hairy, pale leaves (bracts) that often recurve away from the stem.

· Pink flowered plants are found Marin to Santa Cruz county.  White flowered plants are found to the north.

Arctostaphylos canescens_Hoary Manzanita 9__JB--__JB

Plant looks pale, because of white (hence Hoary) hair.

Arctostaphylos canescens 4_Hoary Manzanita_Matt Davis Trail_1991-01-05__WF

Area behind the flower has small, hairy, pale leaves (bracts) that may recurve.

Arctostaphylos canescens_Hoary Manzanita 2__JB--__JB

Pale matted leaf hairs and red fruits.

Arctstaphylos canescens_Hoary Manzanita_Pine Mountain_2014-01-17__BHS-2--2014-01-07 Pine Mountain

Since there is no burl, stems start from a variety of places.

Arctostaphylos canescens 3_Hoary Manzanita_Verna Dunshee Trail North End_1994-02-20__WFFlowers hang down on individual stems (pedicels).

Arctostaphylos canescens 4_Hoary Manzanita_Verna Dunshee Trail North End_1994-02-20__WF

Mature plant gives an impression of pale leaves with many flower clusters.

Shatterberry Manzanita

Arctostaphylos sensitiva


Fairly common on rocky ridges or flats.


No burl.


· Blooms Jan – April.

· Found on rocky sandstone soils in the Mt. Tam area, as far north as upper Fairfax.

· Leaves are shiny dark green, smaller than Eastwood or Hoary.

· Bottom of leaf is paler than top, and is very smooth to the touch.

· Leaves cover a large portion of the surface of the plant, sometimes giving a hedge-like appearance.

· Stems have quite long hairs, noticeably separate from each other.

· Flower has 4 petals.  All other Marin manzanitas have 5.

·  The stem behind each flower is typically red with tiny red bumps (bracts).

Arctostaphylos sensitiva_Shatterberry_Double Bow Knot_2014-03-10__BHS-18--2014-03-13 Railroad Grade

Shiny dark green leaves, underside is lighter.  Leaves smaller than Eastwood.

Arctostaphylos sensitiva_Shatterberry_Double Bow Knot_2014-03-10__BHS-22--2014-03-13 Railroad Grade

Each flower attaches individually to stem.

Arctostaphylos sensitiva 2_Shatterberry_Hogback Road on Mt. Tam_2014-03-10__BHS-6--2014-03-10 Mt Tam Manzanitas

Stem behind developing flowers is red with bumps (bracts).

Arctostaphylos sensitiva_Shatterberry_Mountain Home_2014-03-10__BHS-15--2014-03-13 Railroad Grade

Note only 4 lips (petals) at the bottom of the flower.  Other manzanitas in Marin have 5.

Arctostaphylos nummularia_Shatterberry_Railroad Grade_1986-04-28--__WF

Note distinct long hairs on red stems.


Arctostaphylos sensitiva_Shatterberry_Mountain Home_2014-03-10__BHS-9--2014-03-13 Railroad Grade

Bushy look with many stems.  Hedge-like appearance.

Tamalpais Manzanita

Arctostaphylos montana


Only on serpentine slopes.


No burl.


· Blooms Feb – April.

· Most often a low shrub, under 2 feet tall, although a second form can grow to 8 feet.

· Leaves are smaller than Eastwood. 

· Leaves have very short hairs and feel smooth when rubbed between your fingers.

· Flowers connect to separate spots on the stem.

· Notice the brown scales (bracts) at the base of the flower stems.  Other manzanitas have leaves or bumps here.

· Bushy, branching structure is covered with leaves and flowers – you often have to pull them apart to see all the branches.

· Fruit is red and hairless.

Arctostaphylos montana ssp. montana_Mount Tamalpais Manzanita_San Geronimo Ridge_1992-03-09__WF--__WF

Leaves have short hairs, smaller than Eastwood.

Arctostaphylos hookeri ssp montana_Tamalpais Manzanita 3__DLS--__DLS

Surface often covered in leaves and flowers.

Arctostaphylos hookeri ssp montana_Tamalpais Manzanita__DLS--__DLS

Flowers connect to separate points on the stem.

Arctostaphylos montana ssp. montana_Mt. Tamalpais Manzanita_Matt Davis Trail_1983-10-16__WF--__WF

Fruit is red and hairless.

Arctostaphylos montana_Tamalpais Manzanita_Below Mountain Theater_2014-02-10__BHS.JPG-2--2014-03-13 Railroad Grade

Brown scales (bracts) at the base of each flower’s stem. 

Arctostaphylos montana_Tamalpais Manzanita 6__JB

Typically grows very close to the ground.

Marin Manzanita

Arctostaphylos virgata


Rocky, bushy slopes at the borders of Bishop Pine or Redwood.


No burl.


· Blooms Jan – March.

· A pretty large shrub, typically around 8 feet tall.

· Leaves covered with grey hairs.

· Leaves feel rough and sticky.

· Fruit is a very sticky, bristly sphere.  No other Marin Manzanita fruits are like this.

· Flowers in dense clusters, grow close to the stem.

· Longer leaves than other Marin manzanitas.

· Tiny leaves (bracts) at the base of flowers.

· Trunk often shows twists.

Arctostaphylos virgata_Marin manzanita_Mt. Vision at Point Reyes_1977-10-02__WF--__WF

Leaves covered with grey hairs.  Rough and sticky.


Fruit is a sticky, bristly sphere.

Arctostaphylos virgata_Bolinas Manzanita__DLS--__DLS

Flowers grow close to the stem.

Arctostaphylos virgata 2_Bolinas Manzanita__DLS--__DLS

Flowers in dense clusters.

Arctostaphylos virgata_Marin Manzanita 4__JB

Notice long leaves and tiny leaves at beginning of flower.

Arctostaphylos virgata_Marin Manzanita_Point Reyes_1977-10-02__WF--__WF

Notice twisted dark red trunk.


Arctostaphylos uva-ursi


Only on exposed ocean-facing slopes in Point Reyes.


No burl.


· Blooms March – June

· Grows low to the ground, generally under 1 foot tall.

· Woody stems grow along the ground, not up.

· Leaves dark green, shiny, small, thick and stiff.

· Berries small red to pink spheres.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi_Bearberry_Point Reyes Lighthouse_1982-03-13__WF--__WF

New stems can be red or green.  Old stems are brown.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi_Bearberry_Pt. Reyes_1977-01-08__WF--__WF-2

Berries are small spheres.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi_Bearberry_Pt. Reyes_1977-01-08__WF--__WF

Leaves dark green, shiny, small, thick and stiff.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi_Bearberry_Pt. Reyes_1977-10-02__WF--__WF

Stems grow along ground.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi_Bearberry 4__JB

Red buds, red flower stems.


Arctostaphylos uva-ursi_Bearberry 8__JB

Bearberry grows low to the ground on coastal bluffs.

Common Manzanita

Arctostaphylos Manzanita ssp. Manzanita


Only north of San Rafael.


No burl.


· Blooms Jan – March.

· Found on grassy or open wooded non-serpentine hills, including China Camp, Big Rock Ridge, and Olompali.

· Shrubby to tree-size.

· Leaves long, oval and thick.

· Blooms Dec - March

· Bark is red and smooth, or brown and scaly.

· Large clusters of hanging white flowers.

· Drops copious amounts of white flowers in March.

Arctostaphylos manzanita ssp. manzanita_Parry Manzanita 6__JB

Long oval leaves.


Arctostaphylos manzanita ssp manzanita_Common Manzanita__SM-6

Drops lots of flowers in March.

Arctostaphylos manzanita ssp manzanita_Common Manzanita__DLS--__DLS

Lots of white flowers.


Arctostaphylos manzanita ssp, manzanita_Common Manzanita_Olampali_1978-02-20__WF--__WF

Only Marin manzanita to grow to tree size.

Arctostaphylos manzanita ssp. manzanita_Parry Manzanita 3__JB

Spherical, smooth red berries.


Arctostaphylos manzanita ssp. manzanita_Common Manzanita_Blackstone Canyon in San Rafael_1976-01-01__WF--__WF

Here is a very large specimen.

© Creative Commons BY NC 3.0.  Contributors (identified by initials) are acknowledged at http://PlantID.Net/Contributors.htm

Reviewed by DLS 4/4/14.  Last Updated 3/30/14 by BHS.


Not a manzanita:

Arbutus menziesii_Madrone_Cascade Canyon Open Space_1986-05-04__WF--__WF

At first glance, you might confuse a young Madrone tree with a Manzanita – they both have oval leaves and smooth stems.  However, Madrone leaves come together  to a common point on the stem, while Manzanita leaves each connect separately.  Also, Madrone leaves are bigger, while Manzanita leaves are stiffer.  Mandrone bark is brownish and Manzanita bark is darker and redder.


California Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)--__KF

Huckleberries in bloom look a bit like Manzanitas with thick oval leaves and pink dangling flowers.  However, Huckleberry leaves have definite serrations which Manzanitas never do, and huckleberry flowers look more like bells than urns.  Finally, Huckleberry stems don’t have the signature red woody look of Manzanita stems.


Note to botanists – this page uses common vocabulary, sacrificing more specific botanic terms in the interest of general communication.  We hope the loss of precision in wording is, to some extent, made up for by photographs showing key identification points.


Note to non-botanists – Here are some terms you might be interested in:

·       Burl – In manzanitas, a burl is the top of the root structure, generally above ground although it can be covered on steep hills.  Feel the base of the stem to see if you encounter wood, or just ground.

·       Bract – Before a Manzanita flowers, it develops a distinctive pre-flower shape.  In Marin, these nascent inflorescences may look like small leaves, brown scales, or red bumps.  Although the flower may only bloom a few months, these pre-flower areas can be found most of the year.

·       Serpentine – greenish rock that has an unusual chemistry that inhibits the growth of most plants.  In Marin County, slow-growing Tamalpais Manzanita and Sargent Cypress do well on serpentine-derived soils.