Ericaceae (Heath family) Arbutus

Arbutus unedo strawberry tree

Mediterranean, Ireland
View towards Meyer Green from within the grove of three Arbutus unedo on Escondido Mall. Sairus Patel, 19 Oct 2017
Flowers and fruit of Arbutus unedo at Escondido Mall and Galvez Mall. Sairus Patel, 19 Oct 2017

Arbutus unedo is a pleasant, small shrubby tree on which both red and yellow edible strawberries hang at the same time in fall. Three 12-foot trees are in the circle at Galvez and Escondido malls, and many more are along the east wall of Sweet Hall. The cycle path at the east end of Esplanada Way is lined with strawberry trees clipped as a hedge. The overripe berries that follow the strings of rose-colored bells have the best flavor when they are turning dark crimson. Of course there are numerous small seeds; the only reasonable way to cope is to swallow fast.

The tree was well known in Southern Europe from ancient times for its edible fruit; indeed Lucretius (d. 168 BC), telling the way things were in the beginning, states that girls could be bought with arbutus berries. “And Venus joined the bodies of lovers in the woods; a girl shared a man’s appetite, or perhaps succumbed to his insistence, or took a bribe: acorns, arbutus berries, or choice pears.” (De Rerum Natura, Book V, lines 962–966). The names arbutus and unedo were both used by the Romans. Madroño, the Spanish name of A. unedo, was also applied to California’s A. menziesii.

Illustrations: gallery.

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. John Rawlings subsequently added a few notes on A. ‘Marina’.