With hundreds of species of plants and animals disappearing every year, it’s always exciting to hear about a species that is actually making a comeback. It’s especially exciting when that species is local and was once considered “extinct.”
The last time Franciscan manzanita was seen in nature was in 1947, in San Francisco’s Laurel Hill cemetery. That was before the huge development boom, which saw the end of the cemetery and the species. For over half a century, the shrub was thought to have gone the way of the dodo and the passenger pigeon. Then, in October 2009, a single specimen was spotted. It wasn’t deep in the forest. It wasn’t at the bottom of some inaccessible ravine. It was seen on a freeway divider on Doyle Drive, near the Golden Gate Bridge. The only risk to get to the shrub was avoiding oncoming traffic.
The original plant has since been relocated to an undisclosed location in the Presidio. Cuttings from it have been replanted, with two of them landing in the UC Santa Cruz arboretum this Wednesday.
That single plant is now the source of 424 new seedlings, planted in various locations throughout the region. The eventual goal is not only to restore it to the wild, but also to use it as part of a much larger effort to restore an entire natural habitat, known as the Maritime Chapparel.
The cost of first removing the original plant from the divider to a safer location was $175,000. It may seem like a lot, but at stake is restoring a historical piece of the Bay Area natural heritage. And it meant that a plant, once thought extinct, is now only considered endangered.