Lost Manzanita Found



Map © Bay Nature Magazine.

A San Francisco resident recently got an astounding view while driving the Golden Gate Bridge—the first sighting of San Francisco’s namesake manzanita in nearly seventy years.

Dr. Daniel Gluesenkamp, Director of Habitat Restoration for Audubon Canyon Ranch, was driving home from speaking at a climate change conference when his attention focused on an unusual-looking plant. A few days later he revisited the site and discovered the first living specimen of the Franciscan or San Francisco manzanita (Arctostaphylos franciscana) seen in the wild in nearly seven decades.


The San Francisco Manzanita

The Franciscan manzanita is a subtly charming flowering shrub found nowhere else on Earth. Its tragic history is filled with heroic acts by botanists striving to keep the species alive. In 1906, the specimens first used to identify the species were rescued from the California Academy of Sciences as fires driven by the San Francisco earthquake ravaged the Academy’s collections. In 1947 a famous botanist stood in front of earth-moving equipment to wrest the last known wild plants from a construction site. The plants were sent to a botanical garden, and no one found the plant in the wild again.


San Francisco Manzanita at the Former Laurel Hill Cemetery, 1937

Until now. “We are fortunate to live in such a diverse land, and discoveries like these remind us that we can build a sustainable future for all,” said Brent Plater, Executive Director of the Wild Equity Institute. “With the help of the Endangered Species Act, the world’s most effective and comprehensive conservation law, we can work in partnership to recover the San Francisco manzanita’s population and ensure that the species doesn’t go extinct a second time.”

Surprisingly, the San Francisco manzanita had never been protected under the Endangered Species Act, despite its exceptionally rare status. Today the Wild Equity Institute submitted a petition to list the species under the Endangered Species Act to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and soon the Service will be able to deploy recovery planning techniques and effective conservation strategies refined through forty years of successful application of the law. The Center for Biological Diversity and the California Native Plant Society co-petitioned for the protections.

“This is a great opportunity for the Bay Area to close one of our coldest conservation cases,” said Plater. “With the best tools on the planet and some of the most innovative people in the country, I’m confident we’ll keep the Franciscan manzanita around for future generations to enjoy.”

For photos, interviews with manzanita scientists, or more information, call 415-572-6989 Click here to view the petition