Sunday, December 13, 2015

Wonderful Tree #1: Arbutus Marina Strawberry Tree/Madrone

Arbutus marina.

This is a tree surprisingly unfamiliar to most people, especially outside of western California. Everything about it is terrific.  I would say it's among my 5 favorite tree species.  It makes a great specimen tree, especially for small yards.

'marina' strawberry tree - Google Search -

Cinnamon-red/gold polished bark like Manzanita but more golden, or Chilean Myrtle, which is more golden than the Arbutus.

Evergreen, looks great all year.

Pendants of small, white/magenta, bell-shaped flowers.

Bright orange-red unpleasant-after-tasting fruits with a yucky alum flavor, though the initial flavor is tasty for a few seconds.

Twisty branching pattern, usually curvy trunk.  Never looks lanky unless it's in the shade.  Usually quite lush and dense.  The trunk fills out nicely.

Usually up to about 25' tall x 15 ' wide.  Slow grower.

Not messy.

Full sun.  Easy to grow.  Fairly drought-tolerant.

Hardy down to about 25F.

Pruning not necessary except for perfectionists like me. And pruning can be tricky if you don't keep on top of them. Lower branches should be removed before too large in time to expose the beautiful trunk shape and color.

These are an improved variation on the spectacular native madrone trees seen at foothill elevations usually dominated by other trees, where the madrone finds little pockets to live.  Unfortunately, madrones are very hard to grow in cultivation due to fussiness about soil, drainage, etc.  The Marina seems to have overcome these issues.
The "unedo strawberry tree" is a smaller specie/cultivar even more common in nurseries, but the bark is not nearly as showy.  People often use them as hedges or shaped shrubs.

This tree is named "Marina" because this cultivar was discovered in the Marina district of San Francisco.  It's apparently a cross between two other cultivars from the Mediterranean, Western Europe and Asia..  The actual origin of this hybrid is probably fascinating but lost in time.

The largest specimen, at least in California, apparently is at San Marcos Growers.  It's about 45' tall x 53' wide with a trunk circumference of 9'.  Very impressive, though I haven't seen it yet.  The biggest one I've seen is at Madrona Manor in Healdsburg.

"Arbutus" is a Latin word but derived from a Celtic origin meaning "rough-fruited"  that would be accurate.  I already explained "marina" above  "Unedo", one of the suspected parent or grandparent species of the marina, means "I eat one" in Latin, since you may eat one, but never will want another.

You'll find this in many, but probably not most, nurseries.  You'll probably never find it in less than 5-gallon pots for whatever reason.  I bought a variegated-leaf specimen at U.C. Berkeley Arboretum in a 1-gallon pot in about August 2015, and there were several of those along with a few non-variegated buddies for sale.  Most of the 5-gallon specimens I've seen are pretty good, and haven't suffered the usual butchery from the growers that other juvenile trees have.

Like almost every tree I collect, I'll be keeping this in pots for an indefinite period, as a pseudo-bonsai, probably no more than 2 or 3 feet tall for years.  They seem to do pretty well in pots.  I'll be getting few more of these.  I also have a madrone I picked up at a native nursery in Berkeley, but don't have a lot of hope for keeping it alive.  I'll give it my best shot.

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