The Colorful Madrona Tree

Posted

Pacific Madrone / Madrona Species: Arbutus menziesii Family: Ericaceae (heath or heather)

Identification: One of our most recognizable trees, with bark peeling in paper-like sheets to reveal bright orange, green and mahogany skin. Thick oval leaves are dark glossy green. Trunks twist and bend toward sunlight. In spring, flowers grow in fragrant white clusters. Old leaves fall in midsummer. Red berries appear in fall.

Habitat: Dry soil with lots of sun exposure. Range runs from California’s chaparral to British Columbia’s humid coastal forest. Trees damaged by fire or axe can re-sprout from stump.

Wildlife: Many birds eat the berries, including the cedar waxwing, band-tailed pigeon, varied thrush and the American robin. Cavity-nesting birds use the dead branches.

Human Uses: Indigenous people made cider from madrona berries and infusions from its leaves and bark for gastrointestinal complaints. The dense, heavy wood often cracks as it dries, making it difficult to use in woodworking. As firewood, it burns long and hot and leaves little ash.