A sacred strawberry tree

In a secluded area behind the Garden House at Osterley stand two tall trees with richly russet coloured peeling bark: they are Arbutus menziesii, a species of strawberry tree whose fruits are distilled in Portugal into a spirit known as ‘Madrone’. When I visited Seville Cathedral a fortnight ago I found in one of the numerous side chapels a relief called La Virgen de Madrono, the Madonna of the Strawberry Tree. A kneeling angel offers the infant Jesus a dish brimming with the fruit of the Madrono. I read that the tree originates on the western coast of North America, from British Columbia to California and can reach a height of 25 to 30 metres.

One thought on “A sacred strawberry tree

  1. Seriously?! Yuck! How does anyone get the fruit? There is not much of it, and it is way to high to reach. Only doves get it. Madrones are the second most threatening trees at work. Only bays cause more damage (and only because they are so tall that they cover more ground when they fall). Madrones are quite big and very awkward. They grow in any which way the want to, which becomes a problem with balance when their bases inevitably rot out. By that time, they are extremely heavy, and can fall without warning. There were some at my home with trunks as wide as four feet. (The largest was about four feet wide, and others were three feet wide. Smaller specimens are still more stable.) They weighed many tons when they fell. Fortunately, they fell onto nothing but forest. They work well as firewood, and are used to warm a place up fast. (They do not last long, but burn hot, so are put into the stove first, and then given an oak log to last over night.) It seems odd that there would be enough madrones there to collect any significant volume of fruit from. The cultivar ‘Marina’ is much more symmetrical for installation into home gardens and landscapes. Is it possible that the fruit is collected from the Mediterranean strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo? It is much more fruitful and the fruit is of much better quality.

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