A ready-decorated tree: Arbutus unedo

Arbutus tree with fruit

Arbutus tree with fruit

What am I thinking of, imagining anyone is interested in botany when there’s food to be eaten and family to see and midwinter fun to be had?  But anyway….

I prefer seeing this tree, growing wild near here, to an imported spruce with plastic stuff hanging on it. We did pick some branches of Arbutus one year to put in the house – but the berries fell off and made a squishy mess, so now I’ll leave it growing where it is.

It’s curious for several reasons: for example, it’s unusual in bearing flowers and ripe fruits at the same time.  It’s a member of the heather family (Ericaceae – the flowers are very similar), though it’s much bigger – up to 5 metres tall. Finally, though the fruits look as delicious as strawberries – it’s also called the strawberry tree – they taste quite bland. People do use them to make a jelly, but you have to strain out all the hard little pips.

Arbutus flowers

Arbutus flowers

Like other heathers, it doesn’t like soils with a lot of limestone, so it’s found on sandy soil, or as here on a slope of schist – broken sedimentary rock – which is usually quite acidic. For me, this sort of geology is also behind – or rather, under – some of my favourite wines: the northern parts of the apellations of Faugères, St Chinian and Minervois (La Livinière). You can find more explanation here, but it’s to do with the high mineral content of schist, and how the fast-draining soil, which is mostly flakes of rock, makes the vine roots go deeper in search of water.

I can wish you nothing better than to have a glass of any of the above during your midwinter feast, and many more in 2013.

Till next year!

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5 Comments

Filed under Arbutus

5 responses to “A ready-decorated tree: Arbutus unedo

  1. piece of peace from bill evans . . .

  2. These little fruits look very like those of the Kousa dogwood http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/19/Cornus_kousa_fruit.jpg/240px-Cornus_kousa_fruit.jpg that flourishes (and makes squishy messes when it drops on sidewalks) in Portland. Beautiful peace piece, thank you, and greetings of the season to your family.

  3. Yes, like citrus, you have flowers, unripe fruits, and ripe fruits all on the same tree. The flowers are much like another arbutus, the Madrone of central and northern California, and also the related manzanita of the chaparral in California. One of my favorite genuses (or is it genii) — beautiful bark and form, and delicate flowers. The Strawberry Trees around my village of Roquebrun are gorgeous now.

  4. An interesting note in regards to Arbutus unedo: In 79 AD, Pliny the Elder wrote in his Naturalis Historia that “unedo” was a contraction from the words unum edo meaning “I eat one”.

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