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Arbutus unedo

Strawberry tree

Strawberry tree (Eng), madroño (Spa), arboç (Cat), gurbitza (Baq), albedro, érbedo (Glg), madronheiro, ervedeiro (Por).

Native

DID YOU KNOW...? When the fruits of the strawberry tree are ripe, they ferment and contain a certain amount of alcohol, so eating large amounts can cause drunkenness or headaches.

DESCRIPTION

The strawberry tree is a shrub or small tree that can be up to 8 m tall if left to grow. It has a dense, globose crown that generates a lot of shade. The bark is brownish-red, fissured and scaly, which peels off in plates. Young twigs are reddish coloured, but when mature they turn greyish. The leaves are persistent, simple, alternate and lanceolate. They are bright green, shiny on the upper side and matt on the underside. They are 8-10 cm long, 3-4 wide and have a serrated margin. The flowers are white or pale pinkish. They appear in hanging groups at the end of autumn or in early winter and are shaped like closed bells. The ripe fruits mature are granular looking, have no skin, are fleshy, rounded, 2-3 cm in diameter, bright red or orange on the outside and orangey-yellow on the inside. In Spain they use the phrase: "Redder than a strawberry tree". In winter, both flowers and ripe fruit are found on the strawberry tree at the same time.

ECOLOGY

This plant is found together with forests of trees with flat, persistent leaves, in the Mediterranean area. It is especially associated with cork oak woodlands, which have the same range, over areas with an acidic substrate, although the strawberry tree can also be found on basic soils. We find it from sea level up to 1200 m, in areas with no hard frosts. Although it prefers cool, well developed soils, it is sometimes found on stony ground. The protection offered by the canopy formed by its crown, and the presence of its winter fruit, make the strawberry tree a very important plant in the ecosystem as it provides shelter and nutrition for many species of animals.

DISTRIBUTION

The strawberry tree is primarily a Mediterranean species that is also found on the Atlantic islands of Ireland, the Canaries, the Azores, Madeira and Cape Verde. On the Iberian Peninsula and Balearic Islands it occurs in almost every province, but is scarce or absent in the most continental and coldest inland areas.