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Flora & Fauna - The Strawberry Tree

The Strawberry Tree - Arbutus unedo ©Tony Hall
The Strawberry Tree - Arbutus unedo

The Strawberry Tree - Arbutus Unedo

by Tony Hall

An evergreen woody shrub or small tree, growing to around 8m tall,with distinctive reddish-brown flaking, bark. The dark green,leathery leaves are paler on the underside, with a pronounced mid-riband have a toothed margin. These grow alternately along the stems, which are pinkish-red when young.

This tree is in the heather family (Ericaeae), which becomes more obvious when you see the off-white, often tinged pink, urn-shaped flowers, wider at their base, narrowing to the apex with 5, slightly reflexed segments, which are produced in small clusters of up to 30 individuals.

The striking bright-red, knobbly fruits are said to resemble strawberries, from which it gets its common name, and although they may loosely resemble strawberries, and are edible, they do not have the sweet taste of a real strawberry. I actually like the taste. They are though an acquired taste and have a gritty texture.

The fruits from the previous season ripen as the current season's flowers appear, so you always have flowers and fruit on the tree at the same time.

Arbutus is a good indicator of soil type and although it will tolerate some lime, it prefers acid soils and will be found growing with other lime intolerant plants such as heathers, cork oaks and Cistus ladanifer. Arbutus unedo is the only species of this genus growing in Spain.

Flowering from October - December.