Xylococcus bicolor

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Xylococcus bicolor
Xylococcus bicolor in bloom with old fruit and leaves
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Ericaceae
Subfamily: Arbutoideae
Genus: Xylococcus
Species: X. bicolor
Binomial name
Xylococcus bicolor

Xylococcus is a monotypic genus of flowering plants in the heath family which contains the single species Xylococcus bicolor, the mission manzanita. This is a shrub that grows to three meters in height, two meters in diameter. Its native range is very limited, comprising southwestern and Pacific coastal California from San Diego county through north-central Pacific coastal Baja California, a bit of southern Riverside County near Temecula, and Santa Catalina Island.[1] It is a member of the chaparral plant community.

Natural distribution of mission manzanita
Mission manzanita
Bee visiting mission manzanita flowers


The mission manzanita is a slow-growing shrub that resembles the true manzanitas (Arctostaphylos). The form is upright, usually with a single trunk and a roughly spheroid crown. Leaves are oblong, glossy dark green on the top and very light colored with a felty texture on the underside. The edges of the leaves curl under as they age. Bark is smooth and a red-gray color.

Flowers, which appear from December to February depending on rainfall, are white to pink in color blending to yellowish at the open end, 8–10 mm in length and hang like bells in small clusters near the ends of branches.

Fruit is glossy dark red to almost black, 7 mm diameter and has very little flesh, being mostly a large, woody seed. The name Xylococcus comes from the Greek for "wood berry".


The mission manzanita is found mixed southern chaparral ecosystems below 3500 feet in elevation on dry, sunny slopes in a very limited range of coastal areas of southern California and northern Baja California.

Birds, including the California thrasher and scrub jay, eat seeds. Hummingbirds, especially the resident Anna's hummingbird, drink nectar from flowers. Various birds nest in mission manzanita and many use it for cover.

While some chaparral plant species require fire to germinate seeds and reproduce, Xylococcus bicolor does not, nor does it require openings left by wildfires. But as a chaparral member species it must have a means of coping with wildfire. It does so by resprouting from the base after its top has burned away. This mechanism works very well unless a second fire follows closely after the first. If the plant has not had time to sufficiently regenerate it will probably perish.[2]


The Luiseno Native American tribe bruised ripe berries and soaked them overnight in cold water to produce a cider-like drink.[3]


Requires full sun, well drained soil. Soil pH 6-7. USDA zones 7-10. Water regularly and mulch during first year.[4]

Coyote scat is a good source of fertile seed. At certain times of the year their scat is full of the seeds. Apparently the acid wash helps germination.[5]

Best to plant mission manzanita in early winter, on dry rocky slopes with fast draining soil. Put plenty of mulch and a few good sized rocks near the roots to prevent summer moisture loss. It likes regular light watering (1x every 2 weeks) during the first summer after planting, After established, it should survive the dry months with no supplementary water, though it can usually handle summer watering as much as once per month for its first 2–3 years. After that, best to naturalize. This plant prefers to have its leaves in full sun, but likes its roots in the shade. Does best on north facing slopes.


  1. ^ Xylococcus bicolor, Calflora.org - a database of California native plants, retrieved 2009-01-21 
  2. ^ Zedler, Paul H. (1982), Plant Demography and Chaparral Management in Southern California, Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-58. (PDF), Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, pp. 124–126, and table 2, retrieved 2009-02-01 
  3. ^ Wilson, Bert, Xylococcus bicolor, Las Pilitas Nursery, retrieved 2009-01-21 
  4. ^ Crouthamel, Steven J., Luiseño Ethnobotany, Palomar College, retrieved 2009-01-21 
  5. ^ DeHart, Jeanine (1994), Propagation Secrets for California Native Plants, California Native Plant Society, San Diego Chapter 


  • James Lightner San Diego County Native Plants, San Diego Flora (2004)

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