Manzanita is an evergreen shrub or tree that's common in some portions of Arizona (and western North America). The word manzanita is the Spanish diminutive of manzana (apple). A literal translation would be little apple.
A grove of manzanita bushes at above 6,000 ft of elevation along the Mt. Lemmon Highway in southern Arizona
Manzanita is well known because of it's unusual color and shape. Branches can be a dark red, almost mahogany color, intertwined with gray dead sections (see main picture above). Branches can grow in a wide variety of strange shapes and designs making it a favorite for decorators.
The trees are drought resistant (making them suitable for Arizona) and are used for landscaping and slope stabilization. They can grow in extremely thick groves (see Manzanita Falls).
Sometimes dead manzanita is mistaken for dried animal bones due to its strange shape and slow drying characteristics (the sun smooths and bleaches the wood). The plant also has beautiful berries and flowers which can attract a wide variety of animal and insect life.
Some of the varieties of manzanita have edible leaves, flowers and berries. Unverified sources have used it help with poison oak rash and grind it up for cider. Please research any plant thoroughly before attempting to eat it :-).
The manzanita is a favorite of mine. I love the smooth, red bark and how it contrasts with the leaves and dead branches. Next time you see it on a hike, stop for a few minutes and appreciate its beauty. You'll be glad you did.
U of A Backyard Gardner