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Arbutus menziesii trunk
Arbutus menziesii trunk
Plant Info
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Kingdom: Plantae
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Class: Magnoliopsida
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Order: Ericales
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Superfamily: {{{superfamilia}}}
Family: Ericaceae
Subfamily: {{{subfamilia}}}
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Genus: Arbutus
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See text.

Arbutus is a genus of at least 14 species of flowering plants in the family Ericaceae, native to warm temperate regions of the Mediterranean, western Europe, and North America.

North American members of the genus are called Madrones, from the Spanish name madroño. The European species are called Strawberry Trees from the superficial resemblance of the fruit to a strawberry; some species are sometimes referred to simply as the "Arbutus". Curiously, the name "Madrone" is used south of the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon/northern California and the name "Madrona" is used north of the Siskiyou Mountains according to the "Sunset Western Garden Book". North of the Canadian border, the name "Arbutus" is commonly used.[1] All refer to the same tree, Arbutus menziesii, native to the Pacific Northwest and Northern California regions.

They are evergreen trees or large shrubs growing to 5–25 m tall, with red or brown bark. The leaves are spirally arranged, oval to broad lanceolate, with a serrated or entire margin. The flowers are bell-shaped, 5–10 mm long, white or pink, and produced in racemes or corymbs. The fruit is a rough-textured red or orange-red berry 1–2 cm diameter containing yellow fruit flesh with numerous very small seeds; the fruit are edible but have minimal flavour and are not widely eaten.

A recent study which analyzed ribosomal DNA from Arbutus and related genera suggests that the Mediterranean Basin species of Arbutus are not very closely related to the North American species, and that the split between the two groups of species occurred at the Paleogene/Neogene boundary.



Old World

  • Arbutus andrachne (Greek Strawberry Tree). Southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia.
  • Arbutus canariensis (Canary Madrone). Canary Islands.
  • Arbutus unedo (Strawberry Tree). Widespread in the Mediterranean region and also western France and western Ireland.
  • Note: the East Asian fruit Myrica rubra is often mistranslated as Arbutus.
  • A. unedo and A. andrachne hybridise naturally where their ranges overlap; the hybrid has been named Arbutus × andrachnoides (syn. A. × hybrida, or A. andrachne × unedo), inheriting traits of both parent species, though fruits are not usually borne freely, and as a hybrid is unlikely to breed true from seed.

New World

Arbutus species are used as food plants by some Lepidoptera species including Emperor Moth.

Several species are widely cultivated as ornamental plants outside of their natural ranges, though cultivation is often difficult due to their intolerance of root disturbance.

Some species in the genera Epigaea, Arctostaphylos and Gaultheria were formerly classified in Arbutus. As a result of its past classification, Epigaea repens (Mayflower) has an alternative common name of "trailing arbutus".

Uses and symbolism

The bear and the tree at Puerta del Sol, Madrid

The Arbutus unedo tree makes up part of the coat of arms (El oso y el madroño, The Bear and the Strawberry Tree) of the city of Madrid, Spain. In the center of the city (Puerta del Sol) there is a statue of a bear eating the fruit of the Madroño tree. The image appears on city crests, taxi cabs, man-hole covers, and other city infrastructure.

The Arbutus was important to the Straits Salish people of Vancouver Island, who used arbutus bark and leaves to create medicines for colds, stomach problems, and tuberculosis, and as the basis for contraceptives. The tree also figured into certain myths of the Straits Salish.[2]



  1. On British Columbia see Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon, eds, Plants of Coastal British Columbia (Vancouver: Lone Pine Publishing, 1994), 49 and Daniel Francis, ed., The Encyclopedia of British Columbia (Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 2000), 20.
  2. Pojar and MacKinnon, 49


  • Hileman, Lena C., Vasey, Michael C., & Thomas Parker, V. 2001. Phylogeny and Biogeography of the Arbutoideae (Ericaceae): Implications for the Madrean-Tethyan Hypothesis. Systematic Botany 26 (1): 131–143.
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