To the untrained eye, the Franciscan Manzanita might not stand out. But this shrub is special: native to San Francisco, it was thought to be extinct until 2009, when a single plant was discovered. This week, the federal government added the Franciscan Manzanita to the Endangered Species list.

The last plant was discovered by chance, when a biologist happened to be driving past a construction site. Workers had cleared large areas of vegetation, which revealed the manzanita. The shrub was big—eight feet wide and twelve feet long, though only two feet high. It turned out to be directly in the path of the construction, but as soon as the scientist realized what it was, the work was temporarily halted. The shrub was carefully moved to a secret location.

Before the discovery, the Franciscan Manzanita had been considered extinct for 60 years. The plant is uniquely suited to life in San Francisco, having adapted to local sandy soil and foggy, windy air. In 1947, the last known patch of the plant was bulldozed at a city cemetery. A local botanist saved two plants and brought them to the Botanical Garden in Berkeley. Those specimens are still alive, and cuttings were reproduced and sold as ornamental plants. But no plants were known to be left in the wild, and the nursery version was slightly different.

Around the world, there are just over 100 species of manzanita, with 95 of those native to California. Only a few species are native to San Francisco. The Presidio manzanita, like the Franciscan, is very rare, with only one specimen left in the wild.

The Franciscan manzanita found in 2009 has been used to create several new plants, which were introduced throughout the Presidio, a large park in San Francisco. Now that the plant has been added to the Endangered Species list, the original “mother” plant is well-protected; anyone who tries to harm it will face criminal charges.

Image by Flickr user USFWS Pacific Southwest Region