Strawberry tree (Eng); madroño mediterráneo, madroño, madroñero (Spa); arboç (Cat); gurbitza (Baq); albedro, érbedo (Glg); madronheiro, ervedeiro (Por).
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.
The strawberry tree is a shrub or small tree that can be up to 8 m tall. It has a dense, globose crown that generates a lot of shade. The bark is reddish-brown, cracked, flaky and peels off in small sheets. The young twigs are reddish, although when mature they become greyish (they never acquire the orange hue of the Canary madrone, Arbutus canariensis). 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 hermaphroditic flowers are white or pink in colour. They appear in hanging groups up to 10 cm in length and are shaped like closed bells reminiscent of tiny inverted pitchers. The ripe fruits 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 colourful phrase: "redder than a strawberry tree". In winter, both flowers and ripe fruit can be found on the strawberry tree at the same time. In general, this tree looks very similar to the Canary madrone, but its leaves tend to be more leathery, erect, and somewhat shorter; the stalks of the flowers and fruits lack glandular hairs, and the ripe fruits are a more intense orange-red colour.
In its natural habitat it is found together with Mediterranean forests of persistent-leaved trees, and is mainly associated with cork oak woodlands. It shows a preference for loose, siliceous soils, although it does tolerate limey substrates, and zones with a milder climate in winter. This species requires a certain amount of moisture in the environment and is sensitive to prolonged droughts, therefore in the Canary Islands its range is limited to the mesophytic monteverde forest areas, which are neither very humid nor very dry. It is also typical in the Morella-Erica heathland and can even be found in humid pine zones. It tends to appear sporadically, but can be quite abundant in specific places, mainly in Tenerife.
Arbutus unedo is primarily from the Mediterranean and Western Europe. 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. It was introduced into the Canary Islands relatively recently (in the 20th century) and has become naturalised on the islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria, where sometimes it coincides with Arbutus canariensis. In the Canary Islands it is considered an invasive species.