Xylococcus bicolor

Common name: Mission Manzanita

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. :)

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13 thoughts on “Xylococcus bicolor”

  1. What beautiful trees! I really enjoyed the Dance of Medusa, nicely done. And now that I read your “hot chocolate” description, I don’t think I could think of that colour any other way ☺️

  2. This is so instructive for me, since I posted about our Madrone trees a while back, and included photos of the peeling bark, leaf litter, the “muscular trunks” etc. Your images of this iconic tree, so similar to our Madrone, are just beautiful. Your restrained palette doesn’t subtract from the drama of these trees. I love the variety here – it’s impossible to pic favorites. Do you find that lichen growth on this species is unusual? Where I live, lichens are abundant and grow heavily on certain species, but not the Madrone. I also have to say that to me, it seems you solved the problem of lots of information in the first photo beautifully (and in the elfin forest photo). The details in the distance receded just enough, the colors are balanced perfectly, and an image that could be confusing is coherent instead. This is something I struggle with here in the land of chaotic growth. :-)

    • Thanks, Lynn. The “Elegant…” photo is one of my favorites too, though I of course still see something that could be better. ;) I must admit that I never paid much attention to when, where and if lichen grows on Manzanita. It would seem a bit unusual to me if it grew on the smooth bark itself – from what I can see in most of my photos (except for the close-up), lichen seems to get a better hold on the dead parts of a trunk. I’ll have to take a more conscious approach next time I’m out.

      • That makes sense, about the lichen. I just did a post about your state lichen, the Lace lichen, and paid more attention to where it grows here. It continues to amaze me that plants and lichens restrict themselves to certain places, even though another place appears to me to have the same characteristics. Especially so with this lichen, which is very plentiful in a few places and totally absent everywhere else. (And can be found draped over madrone as well as Doug fir, and even on a wild rose.)

  3. This species certainly has a lot of character, with many faces to show at different times, and you’ve done a great job showing some of that diversity. I really like the lichen close-up shot with the beautifully subtle color contrast. And I do have to admit the last photo, the detail shot, made me cringe just a bit with memories of scuffed and beaten up knees as a kid. :-) Now I’m going to go make some hot chocolate and reminisce.


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