Phoenix Seeds?!

Phoenix Seeds?!

(This post was originally published in Hoyt Arboretum’s December 2019 e-newsletter. Since the writing of this post, the manzanitas have sprouted and are doing well!)

Someone who’s not so well-acquainted with the life cycles of trees may subscribe to the common misconception that flora “die” in the winter. But if there’s anything that plants can teach us, it’s that life is an ongoing cycle that continues even after the harshest conditions. 

Can you kind of see how the seeds got their name?

An early snow isn’t the only environmental challenge that our plants have adapted to overcome. Some seeds from the genus Arctostaphylos, for example, require fire to germinate. Colloquially called manzanitas (“little apples,” in Spanish), these seeds are adapted to the volatile conditions of fire-prone regions, rising like phoenices from charred ground after a winter rain.

Not only can manzanitas survive through a forest fire; many varieties will lay dormant for years, only germinating once the correct mix of heat and ash residue has been achieved. A few manzanitas may be calling Hoyt Arboretum home after curator Martin Nicholson’s recent trip to California to collect plants that may be more tolerant of Oregon’s changing climate over the next few decades. 

Hoyt Arboretum’s curator Martin set a bed of manzanitas on fire to imitate real-world conditions and study the results.


Plants are a living lesson in perseverance, and collectively, we humans have a lot to learn from them during this time of immense change. Regionally, we’re transitioning into a challenging time of year; globally, we’re transitioning through a challenging time for our environment. As you walk among bare branches and quiet trails at Hoyt Arboretum over the next few months, reflect on the steps you’re taking to conserve energy and, more importantly, adapt to upcoming seasons. In a few years, we may even have a few adolescent manzanita trees that you can visit to see how far you’ve both come!



About the Author

Mareshah “MJ” Jackson is a graduate student in Strategic Communication at the University of Oregon, and the Communication & Development Coordinator at Hoyt Arboretum. When she’s not recovering from all-nighters, you can find her running through Portland, using iNaturalist on trails, and window shopping.

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