Madrone Tree

Arbutus menziesii

Herbs gallery - Madrone Tree

Common names

  • Arbutus
  • Madrone Tree
  • Pacific Madrone
  • Strawberry Tree

The madrone or madrona tree (scientific name Arbutus menziesii) belongs to the heath family (Ericaceae). This species has its origin in North America's Pacific Coast and is found growing naturally in the area extending from the northern parts of California to the southern regions of British Columbia. In addition, the Arbutus genus is also native to southern Europe and the eastern regions of the Mediterranean.

Generally, madrone trees are believed to be very friendly trees, as they provide nesting places and perches for an assortment of bird species. The trees produce reddish-orange berries, which are excellent foods for birds and wildlife. It has been found that the woodpeckers especially prefer the twisted, full-grown trunks of madrone trees. The Arbutus genus is evergreen tree that produces broad, leathery leaves. These trees can grow up to a height of anything between 30 feet and 70 feet. They can thrive on a variety of soils as well as in ecological conditions.

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Way back in 1769, a Franciscan missionary named Father Juan Crespi, who kept the diary of the Portola Expedition, which was undertaken to locate sites for establishing Franciscan missions throughout California, named these trees as "Madrono". Strawberry trees of the European species, which also produced red berries, were his inspiration to name the trees such. On the other hand, the species name of the plant Arbutus is attributed to a British botanist named Archibald Menzies (1754 to 1842). In fact, Arbutus is name for strawberry trees in Latin.

Although the madrone trees shed their leaves and bark regularly, they are considered to be a highly ornamental species, which is valued for its flashy flowers, vividly colored fruits (berries), beauty of its crooked trunks and multicoloured bark. In Europe as well as the United States, people cultivate madrone trees for landscaping.

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It is worth mentioning here that the madrone trees are also very familiar bee plants.

Parts used

Leaves, berries, bark.

Uses

Madrone tree leaves possess stomachic properties and are considered to be vulnerary or useful for healing wounds. These leaves are often used for treating stomach aches as well as cramps, colds and other conditions. The leaves of madrone trees are also applied topically in the form of a poultice to heal burn injuries. On the other hand, the bitter compounds present in the leaves and bark of this tree can be employed in the form of an astringent. The bark is used to prepare an infusion, which has been traditionally used for treating diabetes. This bark infusion is applied topically to heal cuts, wounds and sores. In addition, this infusion is effective when used as a gargle to heal sore throats.

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Native Indians in North America have been using the madrone fruits or berries for making cider, and the bark of the tree is used to prepare a tea that assists in treating colds as well as sore throats. In addition, the leaves of madrone leaves can be chewed to alleviate stomach aches and pain due to cramps. It is easy to obtain madrone bark, as it peels off on its own. On the other hand, it can be difficult to obtain the bark if one has to reach for them.

The early Native Americans residing in California used the Pacific madrone for a variety of purposes. These people collected madrone berries fresh and used them to prepare unfermented cider. They also consumed the dried berries and after cooking them. These Native Americans dried the reddish madrone berries and made them into a necklace and wore them. In fact, the berries and leaves of the madrone tree made wonderful ornaments for these people. The leaves of this tree are used for therapeutic purposes and are recommended for people enduring cramps, stomach aches, skin sores as well as a variety of other health conditions. Even people engaged in tanning leather found out that the madrone tree bark was useful for them.

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The Native North Americans sometimes used the inner bark of the madrone tree to make dresses. Interestingly, they used the leaves of this tree to check the temperature of pitch used to make canoes waterproof. When the colors of the leaves turn black it is an indication that the pitch has reached the right temperature and, hence, is ready for use. The bark is also used to obtain a brown dye, which does not require any mordant. This dye can be used in spring as well as summer. In addition, the bark of madrone tree contains high concentrations of tannin and is therefore used for therapeutic purposes. Apart from its medicinal use, tannin is also employed in the form of a preservative on ropes, wood and other substances.

The timber of madrone trees is extremely tough, easily broken and durable even in water. This wood is close grained, strong and heavy. Madrone tree wood does not come apart even after drying out and, hence, it is often used for carving. Occasionally, the wood of this tree is also employed for making furniture. In addition, this wood also produces excellent quality charcoal.

Although the Native Indians of North America consumed madrone tree berries, which were astringent owing to the presence of high levels of tannin, they preferred to chew them and also made a cider from them. In addition, they used the madrone tree fruits or berries in the form of a fishing bait. The leaves and bark of this tree were earlier used for treating cramps, stomach aches, and skin disorders. Several mammal as well as bird species consume the madrone berries. Some of the animals and birds that prefer these berries include cedar waxwings, American robins, a variety of thrushes, band-tailed pigeons, bears and mule deer.

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In fact, mule deer also consume the young shoots of madrone when the trees are regenerating following a wildfire. This tree is highly beneficial for several bird species that use the madrone trees to build their nests in. Birds seem to select these trees growing in mixed woodlands for building their nests excessively in relation to their numbers. Wood of madrone trees is hard-wearing and has a warm hue following finishing. Hence, this wood is increasingly preferred as a flooring material, particularly in the region of the Pacific Northwest. The wood of madrone tree can also be used to make a beautiful veneer. However, during the process undertaken to dry the wood, large pieces of the lumber enfold severely as well as unpredictably. As a result, madrone wood is not used very widely. The wood of madrone tree is also burned by the locals for fuel. Since the madrone wood is extremely hard as well as compact, it burns for long hours and emits great heat. Sometimes, the duration for which this wood burns and the heat it emits, exceeds these qualities of oak.

In the past, Native Indian tribes in the West Coast of North America consumed the berries of madrone trees and used the bulbous roots of the tree to make utensils for eating. It seems that the reddish-brown berries of this tree have some narcotic attributes.

Habitat and cultivation

Madrone trees are often grown for landscape uses. When cultivated for this purpose, the trees require a soil that is free of lime, rich in nutrient, moisture-retentive and well-drained. This species can grow in full sun as well as partial shade, but require adequate protection from cold, dry winds, particularly when the plants are young. Another report claims that madrone trees can thrive even in a limy soil. The plants can tolerate quite low temperatures up to roughly -10C. In fact, this is a perfect plant for being grown in any small garden or in the form of a lawn specimen, because madrone trees have an orderly, dense, erect growth pattern. The trees retain their lower branches which are laden with large leaves near the ground, thereby casting some shadow.

The flowers of madrone trees give out a fragrance that reminds one of honey. When the days are not too windy, but calm, this fragrance will spread out across the entire garden. When growing in the wild, madrone trees have a sluggish growth, but they usually live for as long as 225 years. However, cultivated plants of this species have a fairly rapid growth when they are young. However, young madrone plants loathe being disturbed and transplanted and, hence, they ought to be set in their permanent positions at the earliest. When the plants are growing outdoors, they need some shelter from the winter cold, at least for the first couple of years of their existence. Madrone trees are highly defiant against honey fungus. The flowers of madrone trees are attractive as well as very fragrant.

Madrone trees have their original home in the western coast of North America - ranging from British Columbia in Canada (mainly the Gulf Islands as well as the Vancouver Island) to California in the United States. Madrone trees are primarily found growing naturally in the Oregon Coast Range, Puget Sound as well as California Coast Ranges. However, they are also found scattered on the slopes in the western side of Sierra Nevada as well as the Palomar Mountain in California. According to the documentation of one author, in the southern range, madrone trees grow as far as the Baja California located in Mexico. However, there are others who suggest that as of now there is no record of any madrone tree growing in places so far south. Even the madrone trees do not figure in the modern survey undertaken to document the existence of native trees in that region.

Since the madrone trees loathe being disturbed, transplanting them is a difficult task. As a result, the seedlings should directly be sown outdoors while they are still small where you want the trees to grow. The mortality of madrone due to transplantation is high when the plant has grown over 1 foot (30 cm) in height. Before you transplant a madrone seedling outdoors, ensure that the site receives full sunlight, has a proper drainage system and the soil is free from lime, however, at times you will find that a seedling will establish itself well even on a shell midden. It would be best if you transplant the madrone seedling on a south-facing or west-facing slope. When grown in its place of origin, the tree does not require any additional water or food after it has established itself well. While providing them with water and food will ensure the growth of the trees, this will also make them more vulnerable to various diseases.

Ideally, you should sow the madrone seeds in a cold frame immediately after they ripen. Before sowing the seeds, they need to be soaked in hot water for about anything between five to six days and then sown on the surface in a greenhouse where there is enough shade. Ensure that the compost never becomes dry. Providing the seeds with six weeks stratification will help them germinate faster. Generally, madrone seeds take about two to three months to germinate when they are kept in 20°C.

The seedlings of madrone are susceptible to damp off and, hence, it is best to transplant them in individual pots after they have grown sufficiently large so that they can be handled. It is also important to ensure that there is proper air circulation in the area where you are growing the seedlings in pots. Preferably, you should grow the seedlings in greenhouses throughout their first winter and subsequently plant them in their permanent sites outdoors during the later part of spring when the last date of expected frost has passed.

Madrone can also be propagated from basal cuttings undertaken during the end of winter. You should always take the cuttings from mature wood from the existing season's growth. November/ December is the best time to undertake the cuttings, which need to be planted in a frame. However, survival rate of these cuttings is said to be very poor. You can also propagate madrone by the layering process. In this case, you need to layer young wood, but this process is extremely slow and it may take as long as two years for the new plant to emerge.

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