Arctostaphylos pungens Kunth

by Laura Soito, Native Plants Class 2003
Common names:
pointleaf manzanita, Mexican manzanita
Family: Ericaceae
Synonymy: Arctostaphylos chaloneorum J.B. Roof, Arctostaphylos pseudopungens J. B. Roof
Etymology: The generic name is from the Greek where Arktos refers to bear and staphyle refers to a cluster of grapes. Together these names suggest that bears eat the fruit (9). The specific epithet refers to the sharp points at the ends of the leaves. The common name manzanita is Spanish for “little apple” referring to the small apple shaped fruit (2,6,8).

Growth form:
Manzanita is a shrub which can reach heights of 1.5-2 m (5-7 feet) and a diameter of 6 m (20 feet). It often grows into dense thickets of individuals (3).
Roots: Generally, manzanita has a shallow, fibrous root system, but can have a taproot in sandy soil. Most roots are found in the top 20 cm (8 inches) of soil (3).
Stem: The smooth, shiny, reddish branches are often crooked. Thin outer layer of bark can commonly be found peeling.
Leaves: Bright green, thick and alternate with points at the ends. The leaves are about 3 cm long and 1.5 cm wide (1in x 0.5 in) (3,6)
Inflorescence/flowers: Ten to fifteen, white to light pink, waxy, bell-shaped flowers are found in clusters at ends of branches (2, 5).
Fruit: Round, orange to brownish red, berry contains 4-10 seeds and is less than 1cm in diameter (2, 5).
Similar species: Arctostaphylos pringlei is often found in similar habitats and ranges. A. pringlei can be differentiated by the presence of hair on new stems and more rounded leaves (2).

Life history:
Native/introduced: Native
Photosynthetic pathway:
Blooms between January and April and fruits April through July (3).
Distribution: Found on dry rocky slopes, especially in the chaparral. It is found at 900-2,400 m (3,000-8,000 feet) in elevation (3). It is found in northern and eastern Arizona from northern Mohave County to Pima, Santa Cruz, and Cochise counties. Also found in New Mexico, Southern California, Utah, and Mexico (4).

Wildlife: Fruits are eaten by birds and mammals. The foliage is sometimes grazed by goats and cattle if range conditions are poor (3). Hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers (2).
Food: Fruits can be eaten raw. They were sometimes sun-dried for storage. They can be cooked to make pies, jellies, jams or stews. Crushed, they can be made into drinks such as cider or wine. The seeds can be cooked as a mush (6,7,8). The fruits and leaves are available at native markets in Mexico as Pingüica (1,10).
Medicinal: An infusion made from the leaves can be used to relieve poison ivy (7,8). Leaves were also used externally to reduce swelling, sore muscles and other inflammations (8). Leaves are also used for stomach troubles (4,8). Leaves are also commonly used in astringents. A tea made from the leaves and berries can be used as a diuretic or to treat bronchitis (1,8)..Throughout the world many Actostaphylos species are used for urinary tract problems such as kidney stones and bladder infections (6).
Other Uses: The wood, when burned, produces a hot fire. Branches can be used in construction or to make pipes and tools.The leaves were sometimes smoked with tobacco by the Ramah Navajo for good luck (7)

1. Elmore, F. H. 1976. Shrubs and trees of the Southwest Uplands. Southwest Parks and Monuments Association. Globe, AZ. p. 125

2. Epple, A. O. 1995. A field guide to the plants of Arizona. Falcon. Guilford, CT. p. 181

3. Harris, H. T. 1988. Arctostaphylos pungens. In: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (2003, October). Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. Available: [11/9/2003].

4. Kearney, T. H. and R. H. Peebles. 1964. Arizona Flora, 2nd ed. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA. p.

5. Luteyn, J.L. 2002 Jan 28. Arctostaphylos pungens. Neotropical Blueberries: the plant family Ericaceae. <> Accessed: 2003 Dec 4.

6. Lyons, K. and M. B. Cuneo-Lazaneo. 1988. Plants of the Coast Redwood Region. Looking Press. Boulder Creek, CA. p. 105

7. Moerman, D. 2003. A database of foods, drugs, dyes, and fibers of Native American peoples, derived from plants. <> Accessed: 2003 Dec 4.

8. Niethammer, C. 1974. American Indian cooking: recipies from the Southwest. University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln, NB. pp. 75-76

9. Quattrocchi, U. 2000. CRC world dictionary of plant names: common names, scientific names, eponyms, synonyms, and etymology. CRC Press. Boca Raton. P. 186

10. Ugent, D. 2000. Medicine, Myths And Magic: The Folk Healers Of A Mexican Market. Economic Botany. 54: 427–438