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Arbutus unedo L.

Strawberry Tree

Modern name

Arbutus unedo L.

An evergreen tree from 15 to 30 ft high, occasionally 40 ft in its native districts in Ireland, but usually a wide-topped small tree or a shrub in gardens; bark fibrous; young shoots glandular-hairy. Leaves glabrous, 2 to 4 in. long, 12 to 134 in. wide, narrowly oval or obovate, tapering towards both ends, toothed, dark shining green and leathery; stalk 14 in. long, glandular. Flowers produced from October to December in drooping panicles 2 in. long and wide. Corolla white or pinkish, pitcher-shaped, 14 in. long, with small, rounded, reflexed lobes at the mouth; calyx-lobes small, triangular, edged with minute hairs. Fruit globose, strawberry-like, 34 in. across, orange-red, rough on the surface. It ripens during the autumn following the production of the flowers, at the same time as the succeeding crop of blossom is opening.

Native of the Mediterranean region and S.W. Ireland, especially on the islands and shores of the Lakes of Killarney, where it attains its largest dimensions. I have seen it wild also in Dalmatia (on calcareous ground), where, however, it was always scrub not more than 10 ft high. It is quite hardy in the warmer parts of England, and has withstood 30° of frost at Kew without injury. There is a large specimen growing in an exposed position in the nurseries of Messrs Waterer, Sons and Crisp at Bagshot, Surrey, which fruits well in most seasons and was quite undamaged in the winter of 1962-3. It is about 18 ft high and 30 ft in spread. A. unedo and its varieties are of especial value through flowering so late in the season.

cv. ‘Compacta’. – A dwarf bush that does not flower freely.

f. integerrima (Sims) Hegi – Leaves quite entire. The type was a cultivated plant, figured in Bot. Mag., t. 2319, but similar forms occur in the wild.

f. rubra (Ait.) Rehd. – A red-flowered form of the strawberry tree was known to Philip Miller (Gard. Diet., 1759) and named by Aiton in 1789 (Hort. Kew., Vol. 3, p. 56). In the nineteenth century several forms were in cultivation (and may still be today), of which the best was considered to be ‘Croomei’. This came into commerce before 1850 and was described as having flowers stained reddish pink and differing from the old rubra in its larger flowers and leaves, the latter more serrated. Mackay (Flora Hibernica, 1836) mentions a wild tree of f. rubra growing near Glengariff in Ireland, and doubtless similar plants occur throughout the range of the species. A red-flowered strawberry tree is figured in Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 203. The form commonly seen in cultivation (‘Croomei’?) is also more compact in habit than the type.



Other species in the genus