By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
What is a madrone tree? Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii) is a dramatic, unique tree that provides beauty to the landscape all year long. Keep reading to learn what you need to know to grow madrone trees.
Pacific madrone is native to the coastal ranges of the Pacific Northwest, from northern California to British Columbia, where winters are wet and mild and summers are cool and dry. It tolerates occasionally chilly weather, but isn’t highly frost-resistant.
Pacific madrone is a versatile, relatively slow-growing tree that reaches heights of 50 to 100 feet (15 to 20 m.) or more in the wild, but usually tops out at only 20 to 50 feet (6 to 15 m.) in home gardens. You may also find it listed as the bayberry or strawberry tree.
Native Americans ate the rather bland, reddish-orange berries fresh. The berries also made good cider and were often dried and pounded into meal. Tea brewed from the leaves and bark were used medicinally. The tree also provided sustenance and protection for a variety of birds, and for other wildlife. Bees are attracted to the fragrant white flowers.
The interesting, peeling bark provides texture to the garden, although the bark and leaves can create litter that may require a bit of raking. If you want to grow madrone trees, consider planting it in a natural or wild garden, as the tree may not fit in well with a perfectly manicured yard. A dry, somewhat neglected area is best.
Madrone tree information tells us that Pacific madrone is notoriously difficult to transplant, probably because, in its natural environment, the tree is dependent on certain fungi in the soil. If you have access to a mature tree, see if you can “borrow” a shovelful of the soil under the tree to mix into the soil where you plant the seedlings.
Also, Oregon State University Extension advises gardeners to purchase seedlings with the north/south orientation marked on the tube so you can plant the tree facing its accustomed direction. Purchase the smallest seedlings you can find, as larger trees don’t appreciate having their roots disturbed.
You can also plant seeds. Harvest ripe fruit in fall or early winter, then dry the seeds and store them until planting time in spring or autumn. For best results, chill the seeds for a month or two before planting. Plant the seeds in a container filled with a mix of clean sand, peat, and gravel.
Madrones prefer full sun and require excellent drainage. In the wild, Pacific madrone thrives in dry, rocky, inhospitable areas.
Madrone trees don’t do well in a well-watered, manicured garden and they don’t appreciate being fussed over. Keep the soil slightly moist until the roots are established, and then leave the tree alone unless the weather is unseasonably hot and dry. In that case, an occasional watering is a good idea.
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CORVALLIS, Ore. - Madrone, madrona, madrono, arbutus. Wherever you live along the Pacific coast and whatever it's called where you are, it's the same tree: Arbutus menziesii, with leathery evergreen leaves, red bark peeling from a tan trunk, whitish flowers and bright clusters of reddish-orange berries.
There are probably few plants that are more strongly identified with this area or are held in greater affection than the madrone.
If you have one in your garden, it may seem to be always shedding leaves, bark, flowers or berries. But many northwest gardeners who've tried to transplant one without success would gladly pay that price.
In Oregon, the common name of these trees is madrone. According to Linda McMahan, native plant expert and horticulturist with the Yamhill County office of the Oregon State University Extension Service, madrones don't take well to tending by overly conscientious gardeners. They're more likely to show up in rocky arid areas where other trees don't survive, along an inhospitable roadside bank or in the middle of a dense Douglas fir stand than in a well-watered garden. In fact, McMahan says if you do coax a madrone to grow in your garden, water it infrequently and deeply, if at all, once it's well-established.
Madrones are notoriously difficult to transplant. Some authorities recommend buying seedlings that have been marked with north or south on the seedling tube so that you can plant the tree with the same orientation it's been used to. Since madrones don't tolerate having their roots disturbed, buy the smallest ones you can find. Use exceptional care planting even small seedlings, not to cramp the roots. To increase your chances of success, buy and plant more than you think you really want. You can always dig the extra ones up later – or just enjoy having more madrones than you'd planned on.
One theory to explain why madrones are so difficult to transplant is that they rely heavily on a complex relationship with fungal filaments in the soil. These fungal filaments grow together with plant roots to form extensive networks called myccorhizae. These bring additional water and nutrients to the plant. Myccorhizae can increase the working surface area of the roots by as much as a thousand-fold.
If you can plant your madrone seedling in soil dug up from under a mature madrone tree, where myccorhizal relationships are already established, you might be able to give yours a head start.
Since madrones tend to shed leaves and bark over a period of several months throughout the summer, consider putting yours in an area that doesn't need to be manicured. Then as long as the tree doesn't have blight-blackened leaves, you can let both leaves and bark dry and crumble where they fall.
Leaf blight shows up as blackened leaves during the winter and can be widespread over the tree. At least some of the various types of fungus that cause madrone leaves to blacken are now thought to be endemic. The good news is that, while the black leaves are unsightly, they usually don't seem to harm the tree substantially. The new leaves emerge shortly before the old ones drop, and soon the tree looks healthy again. However, if you have blighted leaves, try removing the blackened leaves promptly from under and even from the tree itself as the new ones emerge. Within a couple of years this method may help to reduce the blight to much less noticeable levels.
Madrones tend to have irregular growth forms, sometimes putting out long bare branches with large clumps of leaves at the ends, especially if they're growing among other more aggressive trees where they need to twist and reach for the light. On rocky outcrops along some coastal stretches, you can find clusters of small madrones that have been stunted and gnarled by the wind. On the other hand, if they have little competition for space and little stress, they can also grow into a more classic shade-tree form with heavily leaved branches above a straight thick trunk.
Seattle had a madrone with an 11-foot circumference on its Heritage Tree tour until 2004 when it succumbed to disease.
Whatever their size, the individuality of madrones is always immediately recognizable by their distinctive bark and leaves and is one of the charms of this tree.
The clusters of small whitish flowers in the spring attract insects, and mature madrone trunks attract woodpeckers. Other birds flock to the red berries in droves in late summer and fall. The berries are edible but rather tasteless for humans.
Other species of Arbutus are native to the eastern Mediterranean and to southern Europe, but madrone grows only on the Pacific Coast of North America, primarily from northern California to southern British Columbia.
This information was originally published in Hardwoods of the Pacific Northwest, S.S. Niemiec, G.R. Ahrens, S. Willits, and D.E. Hibbs. 1995. Research Contribution 8. Oregon State University, Forest Research Laboratory
Pacific madrone is one of the largest of about 14 species of Arbutus in the world, and one of the two Arbutus species in North America. Pacific madrone is a broadleaved evergreen tree and a member of the heath family (Ericaceae). It is distinguished by its smooth trunk, orange-red deciduous bark, white flowers, and red berries.
Size, Longevity, and Form
Pacific madrones attain heights of 80 to 125 ft and diameters of 24 to 48 in. The largest trees may be as much as 400 years old ages of 200 to 250 years have been counted. Pacific madrone can develop a clear, straight bole under good conditions in forest stands, particularly in canyons and dense stands. Open-grown individuals and trees growing on lower quality sites often have multiple stems, which originate from sprouts or root burls that often are J-shaped and forked. The tree may become shrubby on poor sites. Pacific madrone generally develops a deep and spreading system of lateral roots, often in association with large root burls. Seedlings have a tap root.
Pacific madrone is found from San Diego (lat 33° N) to eastern Vancouver Island (lat 51° N). In Oregon and Washington, it is restricted to the Coast Range and the west slopes of the Cascade ranges. In California, it is also found in the Coast Range, throughout much of the Klamath Mountains, and in some areas west of the Sierra Nevada.
Pacific madrone is the most common abundant hardwood in the Siskiyou Mountains and interior coast ranges of the Southwest subregion of Oregon. This is the only subregion of Oregon that has a substantial inventory of Pacific madrone timber (Appendix 1, Table 1). Much of the Pacific madrone in Oregon is on federal lands, although volume estimates are not readily available. Pacific madrone is the second-most abundant hardwood in northern California. In Washington, it is common in the Puget Sound and Olympic subregions.
Tolerance, Crown Position
Pacific madrone most commonly occurs as a codominant or intermediate tree in a canopy of mixed-hardwood species that often have some overstory of conifers. Pacific madrone is intermediate in tolerance. Tolerance appears to be lower for older trees and for trees at the northern end of the range. Seedlings establish best in partial shade, and young trees can survive in fairly dense shade. Top light is required for good growth older trees may require top light to survive. Pacific madrone will grow toward openings, leaning as much as 15 to 20 degrees.
Pacific madrone can be subclimax or climax in successional status a substantial component of madrone is often maintained by periodic fires in the southern and central parts of its range. Although the thin-barked stems are easily killed by fire, Pacific madrone often dominates post-fire vegetation via vigorous regeneration of sprouts. It can also persist as a component of the mixed Douglas-fir/tanoak/Pacific madrone forest type.
In the heart of its range, Pacific madrone is a major component of a widespread mixed-evergreen forest, which is characterized by an overstory of Douglas-fir and a secondary canopy of mixed hardwoods. Understory vegetation is often sparse under mature stands containing Pacific madrone. Pacific madrone is a common associate in a variety of other major cover types in the region.
Common tree species associated with Pacific madrone include Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, sugar pine, white fir, western hemlock, tanoak, Oregon white oak, California black oak, giant chinkapin, bigleaf maple, bitter cherry, and California-laurel. Small trees commonly associated with Pacific madrone include vine maple, black hawthorn, red osier dogwood, willow, hazel, and red elderberry. Numerous shrub associates include manzanitas, Oregon-grape, ceanothus, salal, oceanspray, poison-oak, gooseberry, wood rose, snowberry, huckleberry, and thimbleberry.
Suitability and Productivity of Sites
Pacific madrone is particularly suited for warm, dry sites in the Northwest, especially on south and west aspects. Many of these sites may be marginal for production of other tree species, particularly in the absence of intensive vegetation management. On such sites, Pacific madrone’s ability to maintain forest cover and produce usable wood becomes an important asset, one that may be improved with management. Relatively good growth and stem quality can be produced on better sites, although species such as Douglas-fir and tanoak are also more competitive on these sites. There are no established guides or site-index curves for estimating the productivity of a site for Pacific madrone. A site with good potential for growth of Pacific madrone is indicated by site trees with the following characteristics:
Pacific madrone prefers a climate characterized by mild, wet winters and dry, cool summers. Within its range, annual precipitation varies from 25 to 118 in. and average temperatures range from 36° F in January to 77° F in July.
Pacific madrone tolerates warm, dry conditions better than most tree species in the Northwest. It is one of the most drought-tolerant trees in the region and it has superior ability to extract water from soil or rock. Its roots can penetrate up to 12 ft in fractured bedrock, giving it access to substantial moisture unavailable to shallow-rooted species. Established and resprouting Pacific madrone are thus able to maintain relatively good growth on shallow, rocky soils where it may be difficult for seedlings of any species to establish and grow.
Pacific madrone is relatively sensitive to cold and snow. Its broad, evergreen leaves and brittle branches are vulnerable to breakage from heavy wet snow. Foliar damage and die-back are commonly observed after severe freezing or unseasonable frost. At the northern end of its range, Pacific madrone is one of the least frost-resistant tree species.
Pacific madrones are relatively windfirm because of their deep, spreading root systems.
At the southern end of its range, Pacific madrone is found from 2000 to 4260 ft in elevation. In the north, it ranges from sea level to 3000 ft.
Towards the southern and middle part of its range, Pacific madrone grows on soils derived from a wide variety of parent materials. In the north, it is usually found on soils derived from glacial sands and gravels or hard glacial till. It is often found on rocky soils and on soils with low moisture retention. Pacific madrone is generally restricted to soils with good internal drainage it will not tolerate poor soil drainage or flooding.
Flowering & Fruiting
Pacific madrone produces seed as early as 3 to 5 years of age. Trees begin flowering in early spring, from mid-March to May, depending on the elevation. The blossoms are dense, drooping clusters (terminal panicles) of small, white, urn-shaped flowers. The fruit is a berry (0.3 to 0.5 in.), which ripens in the fall, turning from yellow-green to bright red or reddish-orange.
Berries number from 630 to 1130/lb and contain an average of about 20 seeds per berry. Seeds are small, numbering from 197,000 to 320,000/lb. The berries are fleshy and relatively heavy the seed are thus dispersed by gravity or by animals. The berries are eaten by many birds and mammals.
To obtain seeds, berries should be collected soon after they ripen in the fall. The following methods have been suggested for treatment of berries and seeds (Jane Smith, USDA Forest Service, PNW Station, Corvallis, Oregon). Berries can be dried at room temperature and stored at 34°F (4°C) for at least 2 years. Seeds should be separated from the pulp of fresh or dried berries. To extract seeds from dried berries, berries can be soaked in water (overnight) and blended in cold water in a blender at low speed for 3 to 10 minutes. Moist stratification for at least 4 to 6 weeks at 1 to 2°C may improve germination.
Regeneration from Seed
In the northern parts of its range, Pacific madrone usually produces seed every year. Very good crops may occur as frequently as every 2 years, while very light seed crops may occur only once in 10 years. At the southern end of its range, good seed crops may occur as infrequently as once every 10 years. Seeds usually germinate in the first year after ripening. Natural rates of survival are often very low (0 to 10 percent) after seedling emergence because of drought, fungi, or predation.
Seedlings of Pacific madrone establish naturally in disturbed soils along roads, near uprooted trees, or in partially open forests. Bare mineral soil provides the best seedbed very few seedlings establish in undisturbed litter. Seedlings also need partial shade to establish. Early growth of seedlings under natural conditions is slow (2 to 4 in. per year).
Regeneration from Vegetative Sprouts
Most reproduction of Pacific madrone arises from sprouts after fire or cutting. Death of the main stem stimulates profuse sprouting (up to 300 sprouts per parent), which originate from dormant buds near the root collar. These sprouts provide reliable regeneration and have rapid growth potential, which is due to carbohydrate reserves and soil access provided by pre-existing roots. Sprouts may grow as much as 5 ft in height the first year and attain an average height of 10 ft after 3 years. To produce vigorous, high-quality sprouts, stumps should be cut low to the ground (<8 in.), with a slight angle to the stump surface. Pacific madrone sprouts in partial or shelterwood cuttings have relatively poor growth and quality. Moderate to large clearings with little competitive vegetation produce the best growth of sprouts.
Regeneration from Planting
Little effort has been made to regenerate Pacific madrone from planted seedlings. Commercial seedling production methods have not been developed, although good quality seedlings have been produced for some research applications. Mortality rates have been high in field transplantings to date.
Site Preparation and Vegetative Management
Little site preparation is necessary for establishing stands of sprout origin. Regeneration and growth may be enhanced by burning or mechanically removing slash that shades Pacific madrone stumps. Rapid growth of sprout clumps makes Pacific madrone a superior competitor in the new stand. Control of competing herbs and shrubs can greatly improve the growth of young sprouts.
Site-preparation treatments that produce bare mineral soil while leaving some partial shade (debris, vegetation) may be best for promoting establishment and growth of Pacific madrone seedlings.
The growth and quality of Pacific madrone stands may be greatly improved through management. Diameter growth of madrone is responsive to increased growing space within or between sprout clumps.
Sprouts should be thinned after dominant stems have emerged, at 5 to 10 years. Thinning should select well-formed, dominant stems that originate near the ground and are evenly distributed around the stump. One early thinning is probably adequate for production of firewood, which may be done in 15- to 20-year rotations. A second thinning (yielding firewood) may be beneficial if sawtimber production is desired.
Thinning in older existing stands can increase diameter growth on residual trees by 2 to 5 times. Pacific madrone stands (pure or mixed) are often quite dense, and sometimes stagnant, with little or no diameter growth. Periodic thinning may be necessary to avoid stagnation and maintain stand growth.
Selective harvesting or dense shelterwoods are not recommended for management of Pacific madrone sprouts. Uneven-aged management may be feasible over a large area, with clearing in patches larger than 0.2 acres. Thinning will be necessary within patches or sprout clumps.
Pacific madrone typically occurs as a component or patch within mixed stands. Management of mixed stands is complex, and may require periodic treatments to maintain growth of diverse components. Pacific madrone stump sprouts may need to be controlled or thinned to avoid early suppression of associated conifer seedlings. Later treatments may be needed to maintain growth of Pacific madrone, particularly on better sites where conifer species are superior competitors.
Growth and Yield
Most natural Pacific madrone stands originate from sprouts. Dense sprout regeneration grows rapidly under open conditions. By age 10, the average height of sprouts may reach 15 to 22 ft and stand basal area may reach 100 ft2 per acre on a good site. Typical mature trees (50 to 70 years old) are 50 to 80 ft tall and 10 to 20 in. in diameter. Diameter growth in natural stands is relatively slow, averaging 12 to 15 rings per in.
Mature stands or patches may attain basal areas of 140 to 200 ft2 per acre. The best stands of Pacific madrone may exceed 4000 ft3 per acre over several acres. Average stand volume of Pacific madrone forest types in California is 1705 ft3 per acre.
There are few examples of growth and yield from managed stands. One test with 45-year-old Pacific madrone on a poor site suggested that thinning in dense, stagnant stands can greatly increase diameter growth (as much as 5 times) while maintaining or even increasing total annual volume growth per acre (33 to 37 ft) after removal of up to 65 percent of the stand basal area. Another study of Pacific madrone in mixed hardwood stands in northern California showed annual growth rates of 85 ft3 per acre among all species combined, after removal of 40 to 50 percent of the original stand basal area.
Interactions with Wildlife
Pacific madrone berries are an important food for many birds and mammals. The berries are a particularly significant component in the diet of doves and pigeons during the fall. Deer eat the berries and also browse young shoots. Damage caused by animals is relatively minor on Pacific madrone. Live trees with rotten heartwood provide excellent habitat for cavity-nesting birds. Pacific madrones in mixed-conifer forests provide a middle canopy story, an important element in forest structural diversity.
Insects and Diseases
Significant mortality and damage is caused by a fungus commonly known as “madrone canker” (asexual stage, Fusicoccum aesculi sexual stage Botryosphaeria dothidea). The canker causes a dieback of branches from the tip, and cankers may spread to the bole and kill the tree. The bark of dead branches becomes blackened, somewhat resembling fire damage. The disease reproduces from spores in the outer bark, which are spread by insects and, possibly, rain and wind.
A basal canker, Phytophthora cactorum, also has significant impact. The annosus root rot, Heterobasidium annosum, has potential to cause serious damage.
Insects such as defoliators, wood borers, and bark beetles are common but cause only minor damage.
No natural varieties or hybrids of Pacific madrone are recognized, although there may be some horticultural cultivars.
Cruising and Harvesting
Diameter at breast height and total height of Pacific madrone can be used in tables or equations to estimate total tree volume in cubic feet and sawlog volume. Tests of the eastern hardwood grades have found no difference in value between log grades for this species, but have found a significant relation between log diameter and value. Stump burls offer an additional harvesting and management option for Pacific madrone.
Sawlogs usually have a minimum small-end diameter of 10 in. smaller logs are chipped for pulp. The percentage of No. 1 Common and Better green lumber recovered from Pacific madrone logs compares favorably with the grade recovery from eastern oaks (Appendix 1, Table 2). Pacific madrone burls are highly prized and valued for their appearance, and are used in novelty items such as tables and clocks.
Pacific madrone is a hard, heavy wood with a fine grain and little texture. The sapwood is white or cream-colored with a pinkish tinge the heartwood is a light reddish-brown. The wood is without any characteristic odor or taste. Pacific madrone wood is diffuse porous the pores are nearly uniform, numerous, and minute. With a hand lens, the growth rings are barely visible. The rays range from barely visible to readily visible.
Pacific madrone weighs about 60 lb/ft3 when green and 45 lb/ft3 at 12 percent MC. The average specific gravity is 0.58 for green volume and 0.69 for ovendry.
Pacific madrone wood has good strength properties. For most of its common applications (e.g., flooring or furniture), its resistance to indentation and abrasion is a plus. Pacific madrone has exceptional resistance to breakage, making it suitable for joinery. Because of its hardness, nailing is difficult and splitting is likely unless the wood is prebored. See Appendix 1, Table 3 for average mechanical properties for small, clear specimens.
Drying and Shrinkage
Pacific madrone requires special care during drying because of its wetwood, which can contribute to collapse. Green MC for this wood ranges from 68 to 93 percent. Its shrinkage values are considerably higher than for most other woods, which may result in increased drying degrade from warp. The radial shrinkage (green to ovendry) is 5.4 percent and the tangential shrinkage is 11.9 percent. For comparison, the respective values for alder are 4.4 percent and 7.3 percent, and for white oak are 4.2 percent and 9.0 percent. Lumber cut in a quartersawn pattern will minimize some of the high shrink/warp potential otherwise, careful design consideration is a must. Because the tree does not always grow straight, tension wood sometimes forms, which will contribute to nonuniform shrinkage. Presteaming the kiln charge and stickering at a closer interval has been used successfully to control warp. (See the tables below for the appropriate kiln schedules).
Prior to kiln drying, Pacific madrone can develop a chemical oxidative stain that appears as blue or purple streaking in the wood. It does not show on rough-sawn surfaces of the wood and is apparent only after planing. To minimize staining, madrone should be dried as soon as possible after sawmilling, and tight stacking of wet lumber should be avoided.
Of all the hardwoods of the Pacific Northwest, Pacific madrone ranks highest (fewest machining defects) for planing, shaping, boring, and turning. Because of its high density, it should not be processed too fast (overfeed). It is recommended that saws and other tooling have a hook angle of 20° and a sharpness angle of 55° for optimum performance. As with other fine-grain, hard woods such as birch or maple, surface scratching (cross-grain or swirls) during sanding can be a problem with Pacific madrone.
Pacific madrone bonds well there are no unusual problems with this wood when gluing conditions are moderately well controlled. Careful curing/drying of glue joints is required to prevent sunken gluelines from subsequent machining.
Pacific madrone finishes well, without the need to fill the grain it colors best with dyes or transparent stains. Heavily pigmented stains tend to be muddy in appearance. Pacific madrone can be successfully ebonized.
Pacific madrone is a nondurable species that is susceptible to wood decay. Untreated wood posts in ground contact have an average service life of 6 years. Mold and oxidative staining are moderate problems.
Pacific madrone is used for furniture, flooring, turnings, paneling, veneer for hardwood plywood faces and core stock, pulpwood, and firewood.
Pacific Madrone TheHeath Family– Ericaceae
Names: The Pacific Madrone is the only common broadleaved evergreen tree in our region. It is known by many names. In the northwest it is more familiarly called Madrona, whereas in California it is more often called Madrone or sometimes Coast Madrono (Madrono is Spanish for Strawberry tree). British Columbians simply call it Arbutus. In fact there is a song, Arbutus Baby, about a Madrona seedling by the children’s musician “Raffi.” My son was excited to be able to explain to his classmates what an Arbutus was when his teacher played this song in his second grade class!
Relationships: There are over 1,500 species of plants in ericaceae, including blueberries, huckleberries, cranberries, rhododendrons, heathers and salal. All members have tubular flowers (usually four or five petals that are fused at the base). Almost all grow in acid soils and depend on fungal mycorrrhiza for efficient uptake of water and nutrients. Two other species of Arbutus found in the U.S. and Mexico are the Texas Madrone (A. texana) and the Arizona Madrone (A. arizonica). More familiar to gardeners is the Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo, which is native to the Mediterranean.
Distribution of Pacific Madrone from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr.
Distribution: Pacific Madrone is found along the pacific coast from southern British Columbia to San Diego County in California.
Growth: Pacific Madrone is the largest member of ericaceae, sometimes reaching 100 feet (34m) tall usually 30 to 75 feet (10-25m). One well-known tree on Cherry Street in Port Angeles, Washington has a circumference of over 20 feet (7m). Madrones may live 250 years or more (some estimate that it may live 400-500 years). Whereas conifers show extreme apical dominance– where the top growing point relies on gravity to transport hormones that ensure it will grow with a straight trunk, Madrones, in contrast, are extremely phototropic, meaning that the top growing points will seek the sun. In fact, when growing in the sun, Madrones tend to be more bush-like. It is when they are growing in competition with other trees they grow taller, often leaning to seek out brightest spot.
Habitat: In our area Madrones are most often found on dry, sunny sites, often on bluffs above the seashore with a south or west exposure. In the southern part of its range in California, it is found in moister valleys.
A small Madrona at the base of a Douglas Fir.
Diagnostic Characters: Pacific Madrone is easy to recognize by its leathery, oval-shaped leaves. Old leaves are shed in the summer. Also in summer, especially where exposed to the sun, the cinnamon-colored bark peels off to reveal smooth, light green, younger bark that turns golden with age. Older Madrones, growing in a forest, retain a scaly, reddish brown bark. White, urn-shaped flowers, in large drooping clusters, make an appearance in spring, followed by orange-red berries with a bumpy or granular surface in autumn.
Peeling bark on a young tree.
Thicker bark on a mature tree
Glossy green leaes of Madrone
Madrona leaves can be messy.
In the landscape, Madrone gets mixed reviews. Many people love their attractive peeling bark, evergreen leaves, and showy flowers and fruit. Other people bemoan their messy nature, the fact that they drop leaves and bark throughout the summer. For this reason, Madrones should not be planted next to a patio or in a lawn. Another reason Madrones should not be planted in an irrigated lawn is because it susceptible to a root rot, Phytophthora cactorum. Madrones also do not respond well to disturbance. When tall, skinny Madrones that were once growing in a forest, are exposed to the sun, their bark begins to peel. These, thin-barked trees are much more susceptible to the canker disease, Nattrassia mangiferae. Pruning cuts may also provide easy access to the pathogen. Leaf spots that are caused by many different fungi also can make a Madrone unsightly. Sometimes leaves will turn totally brown, but will recover when new leaves are produced in the spring. If this has been a problem, old leaves should be raked up and destroyed to limit reinfection. Despite all its problems, Madrone is a worthy tree. It can prove its magnificence if it is planted in a west or south-facing exposure, rarely irrigated, and left to its own devices.
Phenology: Bloom Period: Mid-March-June. Berries ripen mid-September to mid-November seeds are dispersed by birds and rodents, but will also just drop to the ground.
Propagation: Seeds need to be separated from the berry, then given a cold-moist stratification at 40ºF (4ºC) for 60 days– or plant them outside in fall for natural stratification.
Use by people: The wood can be made into attractive veneer, furniture and hardwood floors. The wood varies in color from very light to a dark purple. It makes excellent firewood. The berries are edible but were rarely eaten by natives.
Use by Wildlife: The berries are an important food for pigeons, doves, thrushes and robins. Wood rats will also eat the fruit and deer will eat the foliage. Madrone is also a preferred tree species for cavity-nesting birds, especially woodpeckers, nuthatches, and wrens. Songbirds, small owls and mammals such as raccoons, porcupines and squirrels will move in to cavities abandoned by woodpeckers. As with all members of ericaceae, the flowers attract pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds.
Note: For my master’s thesis I studied the Possible Causes of Decline for the Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) (1995).and presented my findings at the Proceedings of the April 28, 1995 Symposium: “The Decline of Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii Pursh): Current Theory and Research Directions.”
Click on image for full screen view.
Texas madrone occurs in the Trans-Pecos and areas of the Edwards Plateau. In early spring it produces clusters of the small, white lantern-shaped flowers that are so typical of members of the heath family. The yellow-orange to bright red berries that ripen in the fall rival those of any female holly tree. The evergreen leaves are dark green above and paler on the underside. Perhaps the greatest beauty of Texas madrone is its lovely exfoliating bark. When the older layers slough off, the newer bark is smooth and can range from white to orange through shades of apricot to dark red. Other members of the heath family grow on highly acidic soils in wet sites, but Texas madrone grows in a more xeric climate, must have good drainage, and grows equally well on slightly acidic to alkaline soils. In a landscape situation, the amount of water it receives and the type of drainage are much more important than the type of soil in which it grows.
Plant Habit or Use: small tree
Exposure: sun partial sun
Flower Color: white to pink
Blooming Period: spring
Fruit Characteristics: yellow-orange to bright red berries
It is also known as the madrona,  madrone, madroño, madroña, or bearberry. The name "strawberry tree" (A. unedo) may also be found in relation to A. menziesii (though it has no relation to the strawberry fruit). According to the Sunset Western Garden Book, in the United States, the name "madrone" is more common south of the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon and Northern California and the name "madrona" is more common north of the Siskiyous. The Concow tribe calls the tree dis-tā'-tsi (Konkow language) or kou-wät′-chu.  In British Columbia it is simply referred to as arbutus. Its species name was given it in honor of the Scottish naturalist Archibald Menzies, who noted it during George Vancouver's voyage of exploration.  
Arbutus menziesii is an evergreen tree with rich orange-red bark that when mature naturally peels away in thin sheets, leaving a greenish, silvery appearance that has a satin sheen and smoothness.  In spring, it bears sprays of small bell-like flowers, and in autumn, red berries.  The berries dry up and have hooked barbs that latch onto larger animals for migration. It is common to see madronas of about 10 to 25 metres (33 to 82 ft) in height, but with the right conditions trees may reach up to 30 metres (98 ft). In ideal conditions, madronas can also reach a thickness of 5 to 8 feet (1.5 to 2.4 m) at the trunk, much like an oak tree. [ citation needed ] Leaves are thick with a waxy texture, oval, 7 to 15 centimetres (2.8 to 5.9 in) long and 4 to 8 centimetres (1.6 to 3.1 in) broad, arranged spirally they are glossy dark green above and a lighter, more grayish green beneath, with an entire margin. The leaves are evergreen, lasting a few years before detaching, but in the north of its range, wet winters often promote a brown to black leaf discoloration due to fungal infections.   The stain lasts until the leaves naturally detach at the end of their lifespan.
The peeling red papery bark is distinctive
In spring, it bears sprays of small, white, bell-shaped flowers.
Fruit of Arbutus menziesii
Madrones are native to the western coast of North America, from British Columbia (chiefly Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands) to California. They are mainly found in Puget Sound, the Oregon Coast Range, and California Coast Ranges, but are also scattered on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. They are rare south of Santa Barbara County, with isolated stands south to Palomar Mountain in California.  One author lists their southern range as extending as far as Baja California in Mexico,  but others point out that there are no recorded specimens collected that far south,  and the trees are absent from modern surveys of native trees there.  However, other Arbutus species are endemic to the area.
Arbutus menziesii lignotuber near ground level provides fire-resistant storage of energy and sprouting buds if fire damage requires replacement of the trunk or limbs.
Tree growing in snow at Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, British Columbia
Trees growing with Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii in Anacortes, Washington
The trees are difficult to transplant and a seedling should be set in its permanent spot while still small.  Transplant mortality becomes significant once a madrone is more than 1 foot (30 cm) tall. The site should be sunny (south- or west-facing slopes are best), well drained, and lime-free (although occasionally a seedling will establish itself on a shell midden). In its native range, a tree needs no extra water or food once it has become established. Water and nitrogen fertilizer will boost its growth, but at the cost of making it more susceptible to disease. [ citation needed ]
Native Americans ate the berries raw and cooked, but because the berries have a high tannin content and are thus astringent, they more often chewed them or made them into a cider. Overeating causes cramps.  The Native Americans also used the berries to make necklaces and other decorations, and as bait for fishing. Bark and leaves were used to treat stomach aches, cramps, skin ailments, and sore throats. The bark was often made into a tea to be drunk for these medicinal purposes.   Many mammal and bird species feed off the berries,  including American robins, cedar waxwings, band-tailed pigeons, varied thrushes, quail, mule deer, raccoons, ring-tailed cats, and bears. Mule deer will also eat the young shoots when the trees are regenerating after fire.   The flowers also produce nectar which can be made into honey. 
It is also important as a nest site for many birds,  and in mixed woodland it seems to be chosen for nestbuilding disproportionately to its numbers. [ citation needed ] The wood is durable and has a warm color after finishing, so it has become more popular as a flooring material, especially in the Pacific Northwest.  An attractive veneer can also be made from the wood.  However, because large pieces of madrona lumber warp severely and unpredictably during the drying process, they are not used much.  Madrone is burned for firewood, though,   since it is a very hard and dense wood that burns long and hot, surpassing even oak in this regard.
Although drought tolerant and relatively fast growing, Arbutus menziesii is currently declining throughout most of its range. One likely cause is fire control under natural conditions, the madrona depends on intermittent naturally occurring fires to reduce the conifer overstory.    Mature trees survive fire, and can regenerate more rapidly after fire than the Douglas firs with which they are often associated. They also produce very large numbers of seeds, which sprout following fire. 
Increasing development pressures in its native habitat have also contributed to a decline in the number of mature specimens. This tree is extremely sensitive to alteration of the grade or drainage near the root crown. Until about 1970, this phenomenon was not widely recognized on the west coast thereafter, many local governments have addressed this issue by stringent restrictions on grading and drainage alterations when Arbutus menziesii trees are present. [ citation needed ] The species is also affected to a small extent by sudden oak death, a disease caused by the water-mold Phytophthora ramorum. 
During the Soberanes Fire in the summer of 2016, the largest known specimen of madrone was burned and possibly killed. The tree, 125 feet (38 m) tall and more than 25 feet (7.6 m) in circumference, was listed on the American Forests National Big Tree list, a register of the biggest trees by species in the United States. The tree was located within the Joshua Creek Canyon Ecological Reserve on the Big Sur Coast of California.  The fire was caused by an illegal campfire.