Arctostaphylos is a genus of plants in the family Ericaceae. This group of 109 shrubs and small trees has a center of biological diversity in the California Floristic Province, although a few of the bearberries are circumboreal and widespread. There are significant conservation issues for the genus, since many species have highly restricted distribution,and many are classified as rare or endangered species; over half of the taxa are classified as rare or endangered species by the California Native Plant Society. The evolution and taxonomy of the Arctostaphylos genus are complex issues, the subjects of which have recently been explored with genome sequencing analysis. The taxa in the genus generally have reddish or orange bark and mealy berry-like fruits.
The genus evolution was likely centered in the far western part of North America, where fossil ancestors dating to the Middle Miocene are apparent. The genus was likely even more diversified as it evolved into the Early Tertiary. Evolution of genus Arctostaphylos likely shares a similar timeline with that of Ceanothus, which is another western North America genus that exhibits fire regenerative properties. Extensive use of the fruit and leaves were made by prehistoric peoples for culinary, medicinal and ceremonial purposes.
While 96 of Arctostaphylos taxa are found in California, there are several species that are circumboreal in distribution. The most widespread species are Red, Alpine and Common bearberry; in fact Common bearberry, A.uva-ursi, is found in arctic and subarctic circumboreal regions, and their range extends south to higher altitude habitats in the Rocky Mountains in North America; and to the Grampians, Carpathians, Alps and Caucasus in Eurasia.
Most of the species within the Arctostaphylos genus are evergreen, with Red bearberry and Alpine bearberry being exceptions. Plant height within this group varies between 30 centimeters and 600 centimeters, with architecture varying between erect to prostrate form; moreover, many of the taxa are characterized by a fire-resistant basal burl. The bark color is generally reddish to orange, and while typically very smooth, some species have a distinctive shredding or peeling character. The simple, alternating leaves are spreading to ascending, and are sometimes convex. Leaf margins are flat to rolled. Although upper and lower leaf surfaces are sometimes similar, some species manifest differences in color or stomatal density in upper versus lower leaf surface. For example, coastal California taxa have stomata restricted to the lower leaf surface.
All taxa within the genus are hermaphroditic and insect pollinated. Flowers characteristically appear in the Northern Hemiisphere spring, with many coastal species blooming as early as winter, due to the mild conditions of coastal microclimates. Fruits develop in summer and endure for a long time well into autumn.
The chaparral biome is considered classic habitat of the Arctostaphylos genus in its center of diversity; however, there are many California occurrences in forest settings especially oak woodland and savanna. In many cases the taxa are found on highly distinctive soil substrates which are notable in extreme pH, mineral content (especially ultramafic soils), high sand content, extreme surface compaction or other notable abiotic factors. Common chaparral associates are Prunus ilicifolia, Cercocarpus betuloides, rhamnus crocea, Rhamnus california, chamise, Toxicodendron diversilobum, and a wide variety of Ceanothus species. Arctostaphylos species are also a key component of communities which are transitional between chaparral and coastal sage scrub types.
Most of the taxa within the Arctostaphylos genus are evergreen, with Red bearberry and Alpine bearberry being exceptions. Plant height within this group varies between 70 centimeters and 600 centimeters, with architecture varying between erect to prostrate in form; moreover, many of the taxa are characterized by a fire-resistant basal burl. The bark color is generally reddish to orange, and while typically very smooth, some species have a distinctive shredding or peeling character.
The simple, alternating leaves are spreading to ascending, and are sometimes convex. Leaf margins are flat to rolled. Although upper and lower leaf surfaces are sometimes similar, some species manifest ifferences in color or stomatal density in upper versus lower leaf surface. For example, coastal California taxa have stomata restricted to the lower leaf surface.
The terminal inflorescences are panicle or raceme in form; moreover, flowers have bracts that may be either scale-like or leaf-like. The radially symmetric flowers typically have a five lobed corolla and five free and persistent sepals. Corollae are spheric to bowl shaped, and are most often white to pink. Most often there are ten stamens and two recurved awns. The ovary is superior, with base circumscribed by a nectar disk. Fruits are berry-like and approximately spheric, with generally thick, mealy pulp and two to ten stones.
epiphyllous, subepidermal, opening by slit or by 4 to 5 teeth apothecium of Coccomyces arctostaphyli parasitises dead leaf of Arctostaphylos
Foodplant / mycorrhiza / ectomycorrhiza
fruitbody of Hydnellum caeruleum is ectomycorrhizal with live root of Arctostaphylos
Remarks: Other: uncertain
Other: minor host/prey
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
Specimens with Sequences:182
Specimens with Barcodes:73
Species With Barcodes:88
There are about 60 species of Arctostaphylos, ranging from ground-hugging arctic, coastal, and mountain species to small trees up to 6 m tall. Most are evergreen (one species deciduous), with small oval leaves 1–7 cm long, arranged spirally on the stems. The flowers are bell-shaped, white or pale pink, and borne in small clusters of 2-20 together; flowering is in the spring. The fruit are small berries, ripening in the summer or autumn. The berries of some species are edible.
- Subgenus Micrococcus
- Subgenus Arctostaphylos, which has 3 sections:
- Sect. Arctostaphylos
- Arctostaphylos alpina Alpine Bearberry
- Arctostaphylos bakeri Baker's Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos densiflora Sonoma Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos edmundsii Little Sur Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos franciscana Franciscan Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos gabrielensis San Gabriel Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos glauca Bigberry Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos hispidula Gasquet Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos hookeri Hooker's Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos insularis Island Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos klamathensis Klamath Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos manzanita Common Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos mewukka Indian Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos nevadensis Pinemat Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos parryana Parry Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos patula Greenleaf Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos pumila Sandmat Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos pungens Pointleaf Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos rudis Shagbark Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos stanfordiana Stanford's Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Bearberry
- Arctostaphylos viscida Sticky Manzanita
- Sect. Foliobracteata
- Arctostaphylos andersonii Santa Cruz Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos auriculata Mount Diablo Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos canescens Hoary Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos catalinae Santa Catalina Island Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos columbiana Hairy Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos confertiflora Santa Rosa Island Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos cruzensis La Cruz Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos glandulosa Eastwood Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos glutinosa Schreiber's Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos hooveri Hoover's Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos imbricata San Bruno Mountain Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos luciana Santa Lucia Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos malloryi Mallory's Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos montaraensis Montara Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos montereyensis Monterey Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos morroensis Morro Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos nortensis Del Norte Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos obispoensis Serpentine Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos osoensis Oso Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos otayensis Otay Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos pajaroensis Pajaro Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos pallida Pallid Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos pechoensis Pecho Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos pilosula La Panzo Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos purissima La Purissima Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos refugioensis Refugio Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos regismontana Kings Mountain Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos silvicola Bonny Doon Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos tomentosa Woolyleaf Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos virgata Bolinas Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos viridissima Whitehair Manzanita
- Arctostaphylos wellsii Wells' Manzanita
- Sect. Pictobracteata
- Arctostaphylos pringlei Pringle Manzanita
- Sect. Arctostaphylos
- Arctostaphylos bicolor is generally considered Xylococcus bicolor
- Arctostaphylos crustacea is generally considered Arctostaphylos tomentosa ssp. crustacea
See also the closely related genus Comarostaphylis, previously often included in Arctostaphylos.
Manzanitas, the bulk of Arctostaphylos spp., are present in the chaparral biome of western North America, where they occur from southern British Columbia in Canada, Washington to California and New Mexico in the United States, and throughout much of northern and central Mexico.
Three species, the bearberries, A. alpina (alpine bearberry), A. rubra (red bearberry) and A. uva-ursi (common bearberry), have adapted to arctic and subarctic climates, and have a circumpolar distribution in northern North America, Asia and Europe.
- Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
- James C. Hickman. 1993. The Jepson Manual: higher plants of California, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. ISBN 0-520-082559.
- C. Michael Hogan. 2012. Arctostaphylos. Eds. M.McGinley and C.J.Cleveland. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and the Environment.
- Treatment from the Jepson Manual
- Philip V. Wells. 2000. Manzanitas of California, Dept. of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Lawrence, Kansas. ISBN 0-933994-22-2.
- Philip V. Wells. 1992. Subgenera and sections of Arctostaphylos. The Four Seasons 9: 64-69.
Bearberries are three species of dwarf shrubs in the genus Arctostaphylos. Unlike the other species of Arctostaphylos (see manzanita), they are adapted to Arctic and Subarctic climates, and have a circumpolar distribution in northern North America, Asia and Europe, one with a small highly disjunctive population in Central America.
The name "bearberry" for the plant derives from the edible fruit which is a favorite food of bears. The fruit, also called bearberries, are edible and are sometimes gathered for food. The leaves of the plant are used in herbal medicine.
- Alpine bearberry: Arctostaphylos alpina (L.) Spreng (syn. Arctous alpinus (L.) Niedenzu). A procumbent shrub 10–30 centimetres (3.9–11.8 in) high. Leaves not winter green, but dead leaves persist on stems for several years. Berries dark purple to black. Distribution: circumpolar, at high latitudes, from Scotland east across Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland; southern limits in Europe in the Pyrenees and the Alps, in Asia to the Altay Mountains, and in North America to British Columbia in the west, and Maine and New Hampshire in the United States in the east.
- Red bearberry: Arctostaphylos rubra (Rehd. & Wilson) Fernald (syn. Arctous rubra (Rehder and E.H. Wilson) Nakai; Arctous alpinus var. ruber Rehd. and Wilson). A procumbent shrub 10–30 centimetres (3.9–11.8 in) high. Leaves deciduous, falling in autumn to leave bare stems. Berries red. Distribution: in the mountains of Sichuan, southwestern China north and east to eastern Siberia, Alaska and northern Canada east to northern Quebec.
- Common bearberry: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng.
Other recorded old English common names include arberry, bear's grape, crowberry, foxberry, hog cranberry, kinnikinnick, mealberry, mountain box, mountain cranberry, mountain tobacco, sandberry, upland cranberry, and uva-ursi.
Uses in folk medicine
The plant contains arbutin, ursolic acid, tannic acid, gallic acid, some essential oil and resin, hydroquinones (mainly arbutin, up to 17%), tannins (up to 15%), phenolic glycosides and flavonoids.
Bearberry appears to be relatively safe, although large doses may cause nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, severe back pain and tinnitus. It should not be used during pregnancy, breast feeding, or in children or patients with kidney disease.
The efficacy and safety of bearberry treatment in humans remains unproven, despite long-term use in folk medicine. Although human pilot studies exist, no large clinical trials have ever been conducted.
History and folklore
Bearberry was first documented in The Physicians of Myddfai, a 13th-century Welsh herbal. It was also described by Clusius in 1601, and recommended for medicinal use in 1763 by Gerhard and others. Often called uva-ursi, from the Latin uva, "grape, berry of the vine", ursi, "bear", i.e. "bear's grape". It first appeared in the London Pharmacopoeia in 1788.
In Strathnairn, Scotland there is a hill, known as Brin Mains, but which is known in Scottish Gaelic as "Cnoc nan Cnàimhseag" which means "The hill of the bearberries".
Folk tales suggest Marco Polo thought the Chinese were using it as a diuretic. Bearberry leaves are used medicinally in parts of Europe, and are officially classified as a phytomedicine. Native Americans use bearberry leaves with tobacco and other herbs in religious ceremonies, both as a smudge (type of incense) or smoked in a sacred pipe carrying the smoker's prayers to the Great Spirit. When mixed with tobacco or other herbs, it is referred to as kinnikinnick, from an Algonquian (probably Delaware) word for "mixture". Among the ingredients in kinnikinnick were non-poisonous sumac leaves, and the inner bark of certain bushes such as red osier dogwood (silky cornell), chokecherry, and alder, to improve the taste of the bearberry leaf.
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