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Stalking the wild manzanita

Soon after the February issue of the New Fillmore hit the streets, with its report on the discovery and delivery of a manzanita plant in the Presidio thought to be extinct, the phone rang.

“There’s another one,” the caller said. “I’ll show you.”

When the appointed hour arrived, a jolly crew of gardeners headed toward the Presidio to get a look at the Franciscan manzanita — last seen in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in 1942, before the cemetery was dug up and replaced by the Laurel Village shopping center and the University of California San Francisco.

The unnamed last-of-its-kind manzanita.

But first, a side trip. It turns out there is another last-of-its-kind manzanita nearby. This one is in the backyard of what was once the Laurel Hill Cemetery caretaker’s cottage on Parker Street, two blocks west of Manzanita Street.

Our ringleader knocks on the door, and soon the owner is welcoming us through the side gate into her yard. An ancient black-barked plant stretches southward on a long limb, crowned by a beautifully shaped branch in full bloom. The owner knows she has something special. It is the only one of its kind. It is unnamed, although botanists have suggested it be called Hillson’s manzanita after its caretaker.

“I have an obligation to protect this plant from harm,” she says. After the visit, she thanks the strangers who showed up at her door asking to see her plant. “I’m so glad people are passionate about our vanishing botanical species.”

The last-of-its-kind Presidio manzanita.

On we go to the Presidio, through the park and toward the ocean. On a bluff overlooking Baker Beach is our prize: a ground-hugging plant that spreads perhaps six or eight feet in all directions: the world’s only Presidio manzanita, overlooking Baker Beach and the Golden Gate.

That makes three, when you add the Franciscan manzanita just discovered, nearly a century after it was thought to be extinct, and transplanted to a secure location in the Presidio.

EARLIER: Extinct manzanita saved in the Presidio