Strawberry trees (Arbutus “Marina”) are blooming and fruiting about town. You can see some along the bike path in Olsen Park and there are two in Sonoma Plaza as well. Look left (south) of the Visitor Center entrance just around the corner of the building and you’ll see the larger specimen with the red bark.
Strawberry trees are a delight to behold in winter, as pinkish-white little urn-shaped flowers form in dangling clusters. One inch spherical fruit initially present as green but then transform from yellow to orange to red. The exterior texture of the fruit is rough and rather strawberry-looking. During our Sonoma winters it is not uncommon to see both the flowers and fruit in various stages of color all at the same time.
The fruit is edible both raw and cooked but it doesn’t taste like its namesake. The flavor has been compared to kiwi crossed with an insipid, gritty strawberry. It’s been described as a cross between a guava and a nectarine. Historically, strawberry tree fruit has been used to make jams, fruity soft drinks and liqueurs.
Strawberry trees grow slowly to about 40’ tall. They have large 3-4” oval leaves that are dark green, somewhat shiny and evergreen. These trees have very attractive bark that sheds or exfoliates to reveal a reddish-bronzy-golden smooth layer. They prefer full sun and can tolerate heat and drought once they are established. They are cold hardy to 15-20F. They like decent drainage and prefer loam soil.
Strawberry trees hail from the Mediterranean and Western Europe. They are terrific habitat plants enticing birds and bees with their showy flowers and fruit. Consider them for your water-wise garden. They can be used as a focal point tree or even a patio tree if you don’t mind the fruit drop. You can also plant a group of them close together to form a natural hedge.
I planted five along a fence in my backyard three years ago. They are already providing some of the screening I want. In the future I hope to make liqueur with the fruit. I’ll let you know how it comes out.
This article is the fifth in a series of articles about the trees of Sonoma Plaza. I intend to write about every tree in the plaza. To read previous articles about the London plane tree, the Japanese flowering cherry tree, the palm trees of Sonoma plaza and the cork oak you can go to Karen’s blog section at Sonomasun.com or wildwillow.com.
Karen Boness is a Sonoma based landscape designer, certified arborist and licensed landscape contractor #974035. Her business is Wild Willow Landscape Design, 707.481.8561. Wildwillowdesign.com)