"I just hiked to the top of Cedar Mountain Ridge," wrote Pete Veilleux, proprietor of East Bay Wilds landscaping, "and found some very cool plants including a bigberry manzanita 40 feet tall!"
Incredulity rippled through the native plant coven. The standing record for any manzanita was 32 feet, according to Tilden Park Botanical Gardens local expert Bert Johnson. A 40-foot manzanita has never been recorded. Veilleux explained that he hadn't measured exactly, but only eyeballed the height; Johnson urged him to return as soon as possible with a yardstick or a tape measure. Tempted by the thrill of the chase, I joined Veilleux and Paul Furman, landscape architect and photographer, to revisit the mountain and measure the monster manzanita.
Cedar Mountain Ridge rises near Livermore in southeastern Alameda County between the Crane and Rocky Ridges, a veritable wonderland of rare and unusual plant communities. It's 20 miles up Arroyo Mocho to this enchanted region, mostly private property off-limits to the public. Veilleux discovered the manzanita in a remote canyon above the Los Mochos boy scout camp. "I would never trespass," he said, then elaborated with a grin: "I try not to get caught."
I phoned the boy scout camp three times requesting permission for an informal botanizing expedition. My calls were not returned.