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A genus of evergreen shrubs, sometimes creeping, or small trees, all confined to western N. America and Mexico save one – A. uva-ursi – which ranges widely through the temperate parts of the N. hemisphere. The deciduous species once known as Arctostaphylos alpina is now placed in a separate genus (see Arctous). Leaves alternate, of leathery texture. Flowers urn-shaped (urceolate), 1⁄4 in. or less long, narrowed at the mouth, where there are five small teeth; produced in short racemes or panicles. Fruit fleshy with four to ten bony nutlets. There is, however, a group of species in which the nutlets are united into a solid stone and the fruit drupe-like; these are, by some botanists, placed in separate genera – Comarostaphylis (with twenty-five species, mostly in Mexico) and Xylococcus (one species only).
All the following species are worthy of cultivation, but some are very rare in British gardens and others mentioned have yet to be introduced. Imported seeds from California are frequently difficult to get to germinate. The modern treatment is to immerse them in sulphuric acid; for further details see the article by Percy C. Everett in the Journal of the California Horticultural Society, April 1964. Immersion in boiling water for ten to twenty seconds or even longer is another possible remedy. Some of the California species germinate very freely after a bush-fire has swept over them, and Mr Everett has found that in the nursery germination can be hastened by burning straw or pine-needles over the seed-boxes, followed by stratification at 36–40° F. Most species, however, may be propagated by tip-cuttings.
An incomplete study of some Californian species of Arctostaphylos by James B. Roof (d. 1983) will be found in The Four Seasons, Vol. 5, pp. 2–24 (1976) and in the four parts of Vol. 1 of Changing Seasons (1979–82).