SCV Outdoor Report: Bear Berries
By Wendy Langhans
1763. It was the year that saw the end of the “French and Indian War”. Josiah Wedgewood (grandfather of Charles Darwin) created a type of dinnerware known as “Queensware”, which is still sold today.
And French botanist Michael Adanson coined the genus name for Manzanita, one of our local evergreen shrubs: “Arctostaphylos”, from the Greek words arkto (bear) and staphyle (bunch of grapes). Here in California, our common name for these shrubs come from our early Spanish settlers: Manzanita (little apples). And as you can see from the photo, they DO look a bit like little greenish-red apples.
Manzanita berries DO look like "little apples" or "staphyle" - a bunch of grapes
Depending on which botanist you ask, there are 90 species in the genus Arctostaphyos worldwide, of which 40 can be found in California. Identification in the field can be difficult, because these species can interbreed. Most often, you can generally identify them by their bluish-green evergreen leaves, shrub-like shape and reddish, peeling bark. And, in the spring, they are often covered with white or pinkish flowers that smell delightfully sweet.
Manzanita blossoms provide food for hummingbirds
According to E.K. Balls’ Early Uses of California Plants, Native Americans:
- ate the berries raw or dried them for eating later in the year
- made cider from slightly crushed berries or their pulp
- ground the seeds into flour for mush or thin cakes
- made a wash from dried leaves to treat rashes caused by poison oak
- made a poultice for sores.
Manzanita provides needed ground cover and nesting sites for birds and small mammals. In the winter and early spring, their flowers provide food for hummingbirds, while later in the spring, their berries provide food for other birds and mammals. And, as we know from Michael Adanson’s work of almost 260 years ago, bears were also fond of “Bear berries”.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Saturday, May 22, 9-11 AM. Native American Plant Use. Towsley Canyon. Our native California plants provide a bounty for native peoples. For map, click here.
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, May 12, 19 & 26.
Saturday mornings, May 8 & 22
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
For more stories in the SCV Outdoor Report, click here.