Wednesday, January 3, 2018
The "Strawberry" Tree - Arbutus unedo
The "Strawberry" Tree - Arbutus unedo, is a small tree in the Ericaceae family, that is native to the Mediterranean Region & Western Europe including Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Eastern Italy, Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, Lebanon, Ireland, and Southern France. It is a large evergreen shrub or small tree only reaching an average height of only 30 feet, with very few found as tall as 50 feet. It is sometimes called the Cane Apple, Irish or Killarney Strawberry Tree due to it's numbers in Ireland.
Image Citation: John Ruter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
Though it's name may lead you to believe otherwise it's fruits are not the Strawberry we all enjoy eating, those come from a common or garden Strawberry; Fragaria × ananassa which grows in a vine or bush form. The fruit of the Strawberry tree is a red berry, that is rounded and only gets to be about 1–2 cm in diameter. The surface of the berries are rough in appearance and texture. They mature in about 12 months during the Fall at the same time as the next flowers begin to appear. This fruit is also edible and when red is at it's sweetest. The fruit is considered to be mealy in texture and boring in flavor by many and is often compared to a fig in flavor. It can be used to make jams, jellys and liqueurs (Brandy and Riki). The trees are often planted as a Bee Plant for Honey production. Other wildlife such as birds enjoy eating the small fruits.
Image Citation: William M. Ciesla, Forest Health Management International, Bugwood.org
The leaves are finely toothed and range in size from 2-4 inches long, they are pale green in color below and a glossy dark green above. The flowers appear in drooping panicles usually containing 10-30 individual flowers each. They are usually white, rarely a pale pink and bell shaped. The flowers are Hermaphroditic meaning they contain both sexual organs required for reproduction.
It can be grown in hardiness zones 4-9 and requires mild winters to be successful. It grows best in well-drained soil and is very drought tolerant (prefers dry summers) and is well suited to California's climate. Propagation can be successfully accomplished by seeds, cuttings, or layering and it can be trained as a large shrub, but it looks much better when grown as a small tree.