Tree Profile Strawberry Tree

The strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, is an evergreen that can be found in most of Southern United States and naturally in Ireland, some parts of the Mediterrean, and China.  Originally, it was exported from China but now can be grown in the US.  It is the only tree that does not grow in Britain but does in Ireland.  It is exported as an ornamental tree from China and Ireland.  The strawberry tree grows well, although only 12 inches a year, in warm climates and uses fungi in the ground to supply nutrients.  Often the area around the base of this tree will be home to many mushrooms.  It likes full sun with partial shade and can survive in many different types of soil.  Some of these include sandy, alkaline, clay, and moist soils.

At full maturity, it can be between 15 to 30 feet tall and 15 to 30 feet across.  This evergreen tree does flower seasonally and bear fruit.  The leaves are oval and grow between 5 to 8 centimeters long.  The edges of the leaves are jagged.  The flowers that bloom in the fall are white and bell-shaped but with can have tints of green or pink.  Before it grows to maturity, the limbs are thorny to ward off predators but the thorns disappear as the tree grows up and bark replaces them.  When it has aged, the bark is reddish-brown in color and can be stripped off in thin layers quite easily.   The fruit it bears is usually red or orange and about an inch big.  It takes a full year for the fruits to ripen.  They provide a lot of vitamin C and are important to some wildlife diets.  Birds and forest animals especially enjoy the fruits of the strawberry tree during the winter months. 

Human consumption of the fruit is fine, but if it is not fully ripe, it may cause some stomach upset.  The fruit are reputed to taste like a strange combination of mulberries, strawberries, and cantaloupe.   They will taste bitter before they are fully ripened.  Sometimes when they are over-ripe, they may turn slightly intoxicating if too many are consumed at once.  Ripe fruit can be used when candied with sweeteners or in jams and syrups.  They might also be found in some alcoholic drinks because they do ferment naturally when ripening. 

Bees and birds help this species spread through pollination and carrying seeds.  This tree does not get bothered by insects or disease.  Insects do not go after the fruit like other animals do.  The reason for this remains unknown.  This can be a very pleasant looking tree to have in a garden and is pretty easy to tend for.  It may not grow so well in areas that have droughts but doesn’t require a particular type of soil overall.  These are great for adding a little something to a landscape, shade to an area, or to enjoy the fruits produced.