Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 634 Arbutus unedo

Common Names: Strawberry tree, arbutus, cane apples Family: Ericaceae (heath Family)
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strawberry tree
Jack grows this dwarf variety of strawberry tree called 'Elfin King' on a hot sunny hillside. It has grown to 12 ft (3.7 m) high by as wide in the past 12 years.


Strawberry tree is an evergreen broadleaf shrub or small tree with a spreading, picturesque habit, and gray-brown bark that flakes and peels in thin plates to reveal the reddish young bark beneath. The species can get up to 30 ft (9 m) tall and just as wide but many of the popular cultivars are smaller. In the southeastern US strawberry tree rarely exceeds 8 - 12 ft (2.5 - 3.7 m) in height. The leathery leaves are glossy on top, oblong or oval with toothed margins, and 2 - 4 in (5 - 10 cm) long. Older specimens develop attractive twisted and gnarled trunks and branches. Here in North Florida, strawberry tree begins blooming in autumn and continues into the winter. The small white or pinkish blueberry-like flowers are assembled in drooping panicles about 2 in (5 cm) long. The spherical bright red fruits are warty and about 3/4 in (2 cm) inch in diameter. They take a year to ripen, and both flowers and fruits can be present at the same time. Strawberry tree in fruit is very showy.

fruit of the strawberry tree
Some think the attractive (and edible but not very tasty) fruits of Arbutus unedo look like strawberries but I don't see the resemblance. Do you?

The cultivar, 'Compacta' is smaller and more compact than the species. 'Rubra' has deep pink flowers; 'Elfin King' is smaller than the species to about 6 ft (1.8 m) tall and makes a good container plant (without pruning, Jack's Elfin King is now 12 ft (3.7 m) tall). This cultivar blooms over a long period in autumn into winter. Arbutus X andrachnoides is a hybrid between A. unedo and A. andrachne and is a popular ornamental in Europe.


Strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo is native to Ireland, southern Europe and the western Mediterranean region (Turkey, Greece, Lebanon) where it grows in rocky, well-drained soils. It is a very popular ornamental in southern California.


Strawberry tree is tolerant of acidic to alkaline soils. Protect from winter winds. Light: Strawberry tree does best in full sun to partial shade except in desert regions where more shade is necessary. Moisture: Strawberry tree is drought tolerant once established, and does well even in desert regions, where it may need watering only during the autumn and winter. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 10. Propagation: DA Zones 7 - 10.
Propagation: Strawberry tree is propagated by seeds, which germinate readily, and by cuttings of half-ripe wood taken in summer or autumn.

strawberry tree flowers
Strawberry tree's urn-shaped flowers resemble those of another member of the Ericaceae family, the blueberry (Vaccinium ashei).
strawberry tree bark
The handsome reddish-brown bark covering the strawberry tree's gnarled branches makes for a rugged, masculine appearance.


Strawberry tree is an excellent choice for a shrub border or woodland garden, or even as a small specimen tree. Smaller cultivars are good in containers or on the patio. Strawberry tree is a good choice for coastal areas since it is salt tolerant. Prune minimally to enhance shape, but don't try to make a hedge from this shrub. Strawberry tree does best in Mediterranean climates, with cool, wet winters and mild, dry summers. It doesn't do as well in continental climates, with hot, humid summers and cold winters. Avoid using near pool and patio as heavy fruit set can make a mess on a walkway or patio (this isn't a problem for the 'Elfin King' cultivar which fruits only sparingly).

The bark of strawberry tree has been used in tanning leather. The fruit is edible, but that of some ornamental cultivars tends to be mealy and tasteless. In Portugal, strawberry tree fruits are fermented to make a strong tasting wine known as medronho. The fruits also are used to make preserves.


Blooming and fruiting in autumn, strawberry tree makes an unusual specimen shrub, showing pretty red fruits and little pinkish flowers through its shiny greenery when most shrubs are going dormant. Older specimens are especially attractive with their shredding gray-brown bark and twisted, gnarled trunks.

The related Pacific madrone (A. menziesii) occurs in California and Oregon.

Strawberry tree is recommended by the California Invasive Plant Council as a suggested landscape substitute for often-used invasive species like Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius).

Steve Christman 2/29/00; updated 12/31/02, 11/26/03, 1/5/06, 12/12/08, 10/15/10, 10/30/11

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Arbutus species profiled on Floridata:

Arbutus menziesii

( Pacific madrone, madrona, Oregon laurel, laurelwood )

Arbutus unedo

( Strawberry tree, arbutus, cane apples )

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