Born from Fire: Propagating Contra Costa Manzanitas

Three hands hovering over clay pot with Contra Costa manzanita seeds

Contra Costa manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita spp. laevigata) is a rare native shrub found almost entirely on Mount Diablo and its surrounding foothills.

Although the plant is rare, it’s not federally or state protected, and it doesn’t have a conservation status. However, the Contra Costa manzanita is vulnerable to extinction.

Bowl filled with red Contra Costa manzanita seeds

Stewardship staff collected Contra Costa manzanita seeds for propagation. Photo by Roxana Lucero.

Mimicking Fire

Save Mount Diablo’s stewardship staff have taken it upon themselves to propagate Contra Costa manzanitas in hopes of strengthening their populations.

Like many other kinds of manzanitas, Contra Costa manzanitas are part of chaparral landscapes. And they rely on fire to reproduce.

Setting a hillside ablaze on lands that are next to people’s houses is a bit risky and maybe not the best idea, so our stewardship staff had to get creative.

Using clay pots, they buried manzanita seeds under a thin layer of soil and leaves, and then placed tinder on top. The tinder was then lit to mimic a wildfire in a contained setting.

A small protected flame burning in a clay pot

Stewardship staff used contained flames to propagate Contra Costa manzanita seeds. Photo by Roxana Lucero.

According to Land Programs Director Sean Burke, heating Contra Costa manzanita seeds up in this way significantly increases germination rates. About 10 percent of the manzanita seeds germinate without this treatment—but 80 to 90 percent germinate with it, in his experience.

Hopefully these manzanitas will be ready to go in the ground soon! We’re looking forward to planting them as part of our 10,000 Trees and Plants project.

Top image by Roxana Lucero / Preparing manzanita seeds for propagation.

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