631 Arbutus menziesiiCommon Names: Pacific madrone, madrona, Oregon laurel, laurelwood Family: Ericaceae (heath Family)
Pacific madrone is a handsome evergreen, sometimes shrubby, tree with peeling reddish bark and shiny leathery leaves. Madrones usually get 30-40 ft (9.1-12.2 m) tall, with a similar spread, but can get as big as 100 ft (30.5 m) tall on the best sites. The picturesque trunk is often twisted and gnarly, and the bark peels in thin flakes until becoming perfectly smooth. The leaves are oval, 2-6 in (5.1-15.2 cm) long, with or without finely serrated margins, glossy dark green above and glaucus-gray, almost white, beneath. The white or pinkish flowers, appearing in early summer, are about 1/3 in (0.8 cm) long, urn-shaped, and borne in loose terminal panicles about 8 in (20.3 cm) long. The berry-like fruits are bright orange-red, 1/2 in (1.3 cm) in diameter, with a grainy surface, fleshy pulp, and a thin-walled stone containing several seeds. They take a full year to mature.
Pacific madrone occurs in the Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to southern California, from sea level to 6,000 ft (1829 m). It grows as an understory tree in canyons, coastal dunes, streamsides and on mountain slopes, but the best specimens are in the rich, humid lowlands of the redwood "fog" belt in northwestern California.
CulturePacific madrone require acidic, well drained soil. It does best in cool, humid climates, and is poorly suited for areas with hot, humid summers and cold, dry winters. It may tend to become sprawling and shrubby unless trained to a central leader. Light: Full sun to partial shade. Moisture: Once established, Pacific madrone is drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 9. Propagation: By seed. Can also be started from cuttings in summer or layering in spring.
Pacific madrone is a beautiful and picturesque tree with its crooked trunk and branches, flaking reddish bark, glossy two-toned leaves and showy red berries. It is rarely cultivated in eastern US, but is a popular ornamental west of the Rockies and in the UK. Use it as a specimen in a partly shaded area or in full sun. It is well suited for a woodland or wildlife garden.
The fleshy fruits, ripening in September, are important sources of food for several kinds of songbirds and small mammals. Although bland, the fruits were eaten by Native Americans. Infusions of bark and leaves were used to treat wounds, colds and stomach ailments. Honey bees gather nectar and pollen from the flowers, and madrone is an important source of honey for commercial beekeepers. The bark has been used for tanning. Cabinets are made from the hard, close-grained wood, and the charcoal from it was once used in the manufacture of gunpowder.
Pacific madrone is the largest member of the heath family, which includes also azaleas, rhododendrons and blueberries. There are about 15 species of Arbutus occurring in western North America, Central America and the Mediterranean region. One, the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) is an ornamental species that is sometimes offered for landscape use in some areas of Zones 7 to 10.
Madrone drops leaves, bark and fruit rather consistently, and can be messy on patios or walkways.
Steve Christman 3/2/00; updated 3/1/04