This is Belle. She is a native of Southern California.
We did not name her. Those that came before us did. We love her. I think those who came before us loved her too.
She is a Manzanita. I have no idea what kind of Manzanita. This plant grows freely throughout the area where we live. We have many, and I protect and nurture them all. If you let the plant grow wild, it is a large bush that makes a remarkably hot burning fireball in a wildfire. This is not desirable where we live.
With a little care, however, this plant can reveal striking beauty and the fire risk can be greatly reduced. I feel some kind of mystic bond to this plant, particularly to its wood.
These plants grow from burls. They also die readily. You can find whole trees curing in the sun as you drive through the mountains in Southern California. Apparently the wood makes a very hot burning fire, but I don't think I could bring myself to burn anything bigger than a twig. There is just something about this tree that makes me feel it is sacred.
The twists and turns in the wood seem to tell a story. The colors change as the wood cures. The wood changes color from a rich reddish hue to a black, then to brown, and eventually to a bone like ash color that stains well for a dense wood and makes beautiful colors. It cracks during curing. This is probably why the plant is not extinct. If you follow the shapes, the twists and turns are like clouds. Use your imagination and you will start to see objects in the forms. This is a magical tree.
The wood is very hard to shape, and suits itself to an idea I have to let the raw material stay as close to the form nature gave it, and still serve as a suitable material for a sculpture or furniture piece. This is challenging. It is also very rewarding if you can pull it off. I enjoy trying.
I see the wood used widely for artistic expressions such as table settings at weddings and in floral presentations. I use it in a couple of aquariums we maintain, and it is a wonderful piece of wood to make a tank a more natural and very attractive environment. The wood itself is of benefit to a balanced tank because of specific qualities it holds. I have seen it for sale at aquarium shops, and it can be quite expensive.
Belle doesn't look like this anymore. These trees are fragile. We had significant Santa Anna winds recently and a significant portion of her broke away. We were heartbroken, but she is still beautiful. I still have the wood, and am curing it for use in a number of projects. She has already provided me the legs that hold my tools when I play guitar. She is going to give much more as the years go on. This is good.
Take care and look around you. It would be so easy to rush by a shrub and not notice what is going on just under that bunch of dried leaves and branches. Move to quickly and you will miss the magic all around you. Manzanita has shown me that. I hope you can find something like that too.
May I suggest Manzanita if they are available to you?