Arbutus menziesii

Arbutus menziesii, or Pacific Madrone, is a large shrub or tree standing 6 to 30m tall, making it the largest member of the Ericaceae plant family. The bark is smooth and chartreuse in color when young, turning brownish red and peeling with age exposing fresh green bark below. The reddish flaking bark of mature trees makes the species easily identified from a distance. The leaves are thick, leathery, persitent and oval shaped, up to 15cm long. The upper and lower surfaces contrast sharply between a shiny green and whitish green. Flowering occurs in March at the southern end of the species distribution and May at the northern end. The flowers are urn shaped, as is typical of the plant family, white, fragant, small (6 to 7 mm long) and arranged in large drooping panicles of over 100 flowers. Orange to red berries, approximately 1cm across, of this species appear in fall are frequently eaten by birds.

Pacific Madrone is typically found in dry, sunny and often rocky sites, especially with coarse soil. A. menziesii is often found in associations with Pseudotsuga menziesii and Quercus garryanna.

The distribution of A. menziesii includes low to mid elevations from British Columbia, including Vancouver island, south to Baja, California. Varities are widely spread in cultivation.

Though birds often eat the fruits, humans in California have eaten them in the past but it was never widespread since consumption may result in stomach cramps. Economically, the flowers can be used to make honey and the wood can be used to make small durable idtems. Medicinally, A. menziesii has been used to treat colds, stomach problems, post childbirth contraception and tuberculosis. Native people of the northwest coast regard this species as important in mythology, being purported a the tree used by survivors of the Great Flood to anchor their canoes to the top of Mount Newton; they do not burn the wood in fires to this day.

The genus name, ‘Arbutus-‘ is latin for ‘strawberry tree’, the word modrono is spanish for ‘strawberry tree’, due to the resemblance to the Meditteranean strawberry tree, Arbulus unedo.

Photos were taken in Bald Hill Natural Area in Corvallis, Oregon and near Opal Creek trailhead near Mehama, Oregon in January.

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References

Hitchcock, C.L. and A. Cronquist (1994) Flora of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.

Pojar, J. and A. McKinnon (1994) Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Lone Pine Publishing, Washington, Canada.

Rushforth, K. (2004) A Falcon Guide: The Easy Tree Guide. Falcon CT, MT.

Russel, T., C. Cutler and M. Walters (2006) The New Encyclopedia of American Trees. Hermes House, London.

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