The common name misleads, causing the gardener to imagine a late-spring or summer harvest of the red fruits. Happily, the fruits in question are actually borne on this tree in late fall and early winter. While edible, they are a little mushy and don't taste like strawberries. The fruits are about 3/4", deep red and textured with tiny seeds, but the resemblance ends there. The fruits conjure tiny Christmas ball-ornaments, seemingly lit from within. On the coast they appear in late October into November, previewing the season.
This remarkable evergreen tree is native to the Mediterranean coast, and possibly related to our native Pacific Madrone tree (Arbutus menziesii)-- hence the shared genus. Like madrone, it sports reddish-brown bark that peels gracefully, and is clothed in glossy evergreen leaves. The clusters of white flowers are typical of the family Ericaceae, to which the madrone also belongs, as well as blueberries, rhododendron and heather. Like all these family members, the Strawberry Tree appreciates our mild climate and acidic soils. Set back just a block or two from coastal beachfront, it tolerates the wind and rain just fine.
|Arbutus unedo can reach 15' tall.|
The Strawberry Tree can be planted and maintained as a striking singular focal point, pruned to expose and highlight the bark and fruit in season. However on the coast this dense evergreen is sometimes allowed to spread and sheared into a hedge, similar in texture to Pacific Wax Myrtle. As the fruit takes almost the full year to develop from the flower stage, it will be removed if the timing of pruning is too late or frequent. For the best fruit display, it should be sheared or pruned immediately after the last crop is gone.
|Arbutus flowers in November|
|Flowers and fruit borne simultaneously|
|Sheared into green meatballs|
More fun facts on the history and uses of this wonderful tree can be found on the Oregon State University landscape department website, and many pictures to compare A. unedo and A. menziesii.