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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - April 23, 2013

From: Murrieta, CA
Region: California
Topic: Soils, Trees
Title: Will arctostaphylos grow in Austin, from Murrieta CA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I currently live in Murrieta, CA at 2,000 ft. We planted 800 native plants on our slopes so they were extremely drought tolerant. One of my favorites is the Arctostaphylos family that will take the frost/freezes we get and still bloom in the winter (esp for the hummingbirds). Normally we don't get summer rain but occasionally we will get an August monsoon for a couple of days. I would like to know if the Arctostaphylos family was tested in the Central Texas area since the drought has made water so precious? Some of the new hybrids, Sunset and Paradise with red new growth, and Lester Rowntree are spectacular. We are planning to move to the Austin area and would love to plant some of these manzanitas in Austin.

ANSWER:

We don't know much about testing plants to see if they will grow here. The environment in Texas does its own testing. Generally speaking, plants will either grow here or they won't. We did a search in our Native Plant Database on "arctostaphylos" and got a list of 17 species native to North America; exactly one was native to Texas. This USDA Plant Profile Map on native locations of Arctostaphylos pungens (Pointleaf manzanita) shows that it grows in one county in Texas, Jeff Davis County, in the Chisos Mountains, which is deep in West Texas, close to the Mexican border. We looked at some others of the species, finding some endemic (growing nowhere else natively) to California, and many in seacoast areas.

You say you are growing the plants at an elevation of 2000 ft; Austin's elevation varies from 400 to 1000 ft., because we are on the Edwards Plateau, also known as the Texas Hill Country. Someone from the Appalachian Mountains once asked us where the hills were. Everything is relative - they look like hills to us, but mountain slopes they are not.

Looking further at the possibilities that some members of this species might grow in Austin, we found someone who wrote a post on Dave's Garden,  a forum, on Arctostaphylos pungens (Pointleaf manzanita). The writer sounded like he had tried them and was from San Antonio, which is also on the Edwards Plateau, south of Austin. You have to scroll down the page to the last comment.

So, we have gathered circumstantial evidence and tried to find an answer to your question, "Will members of the Arctostaphylos family grow in Austin?" Frankly, we don't have a good answer to your question. We do know that it is ordinarily found growing natively in acidic soils, which our soils definitely are not; the Edwards Plateau soils are very alkaline. And we found an article on the plant that said it was difficult to find in commerce.

 

From the Image Gallery


Pointleaf manzanita
Arctostaphylos pungens

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