Xylococcus bicolor, the Mission Manzanita, is the only plant in the genus Xylococcus, and the only Manzanita that is not in the Arctostaphylos family. It’s also easily the most iconic shrub or small tree in the chaparral and sage scrub plant communities of Southern California.
It is primarily found in San Diego County and only spreads a little bit further south across the international border and north, to Los Angeles County’s Verdugo Mountains (north of Burbank and west of Montrose), and most notably on Santa Catalina Island.
Just like with any other Manzanita, the most eye-catching feature is of course its bark: depending on the light, time of day, and whatnot, it can be anything from bright orange or velvety brown to smoky grey. Personally, I define its colors as “hot chocolate”. :) You can see this color on twigs and branches, and it is especially beautiful on the muscular trunks of old-growth specimens. The bark also peels, and might hang down from the trunks and branches in rags.
Since it likes full sun on the leaves and grows on dry slopes with quick-draining soil, the plant itself is relative “dry” looking, often with dried up twigs and branches next to living ones. The leaves are soft and bright green only when young, but become hard, waxy, and deep green when mature.
In spring, Mission Manzanita has delicate little pink or white, urn-shaped flowers. The fruits are hard, woody berries with very little flesh, which give the plant its name, from Greek xylo [ξύλο] for wood, and coccus [κόκκος] for the seed. Just bite on one and you’ll understand. :D
And in case you can’t tell by the sheer amount of photos in the gallery below – YES, Xylococcus bicolor is easily (another) one of my favorite plants in the chaparral. :)