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Pacific Madrone

COMMON NAMES:  Madrone madroño, madroña, bearberry, strawberry tree
BOTANICAL NAME:  Arbutus menziesii (are-BEW-tus    men-ZEEZ-ee-eye)
FAMILY:  Ericaceae (Heath Family or Blueberry Family)
TYPE:  A beautiful, elegant, broad-leaved evergreen, 30 - 70 ft.,

HABIT: The Pacific madrone is a spectacular tree with showy bark, flowers and berries along with the gracefully crooked branches. The red, smooth bark in combination with the dark green of the leaves and the whiteness of the blossom is absolutely stunning. As the flowers are spent, red and orange and yellow fruit, usually in the same cluster, appear and by autumn are mature. It has glossy green leaves and clusters of creamy white blooms that give way to bright red fruits. The leaves are shiny and very green on top, much paler on the underside, hairy when young. The most famous of the Madrone's features is the cinnamon brown/red bark. The usually crooked and interesting trunk and branches of this Northwest native evergreen are wrapped in bark of an extraordinary color that peels away in summer to reveal lighter tan underneath. 

CULTURE:  Hardy, uncomplaining, drought-resistant, a thing of beauty all year round. Requires excellent drainage. This and all madrones are extremely difficult to transplant. A little shade is appreciated but not required. Though this is not the easiest tree to grow, start with a healthy and vigorous plant. Poor, even rocky soil is fine, but prefers slightly acid soil. Does best in a south or west exposure. Its geographic range is from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, south through the lowlands of the Cascades, sometimes found in the Sierra Nevada, through San Diego County and the southern California coastal mountains to it's most southern growth area of Santa Cruz Island. It's elevation choices are from sea level to 6,000 feet. This plant will grow from areas with rainfall as much as 150 inches yearly to as little as 15 inches a year. As particular as it can be to establish, once it starts to grow it will withstand high temperatures and drought to wet freezing conditions. Although it prefers some sun, it seems not to mind some partial shade.

USES:  It is a delight to birds year-round.  The blooms attract hummingbirds by the score. This native tree often grows on dry bluffs and poor soil, and the trunk often bends at graceful angles. It is superb as a single tree or in drifts. Native Americans ate the fruits uncooked. The wood is quite dense, making it difficult to work except by the skillful carpenter. Mexican caberellos were known to make their spurs from this wood because of the hardness and the beautiful color. 

PROPAGATION:  Nearly impossible to survive when dug in the wild. See Texas madrone for more information.

NOTES:  Madrono is Spanish for “strawberry tree.” An interesting natural deer repellant is produced when the leaves are young and attractive to deer. A liquid containing reduced sugars is secreted just at the tip of the leaf bud that attracts ants and flies. These insects render the succulent leaves unpalatable to deer.


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