Joined: 30 May 2006 Posts: 2163 Location: West of Ireland
Posted: Thu May 03, 2007 5:45 pm Post subject: The Killarney Strawberry tree ... Arbutus unedo .. Caithne
The Killarney Strawberry ... Arbutus unedo .. Caithne
Arbutus unedo commonly known as the Strawberry tree is a stand out plant for me, as despite being native to Ireland, it is not native to Britain. Also known as the Killarney Strawberry tree, due to its fruit, it can be found growing wild mainly in counties, Sligo, Cork, and Kerry, where rocky, well-drained soils greatly encourage its growth.
It is an odd tree, which to me sometimes feels like it should not grow in the wild here at all. First off, in a country where most of our natives are leafless during the winter, its leaves are evergreen but not similar to those of a conifer. This oval foliage (3 inch long) is quite leathery and laurel-like, comprising a glossy dark green upper with a gently toothed edge.
Although the Killarney Strawberry tree can be found with a single stem, it is more common to find it sprawling with three to four reddish brown trunks enhanced by cracked bark. Red coloured bark is something I again find unusual to Ireland. These stems are quite slow growing, rarely exceeding 10 metres (33 ft) by 10 metres in the space of fifty years.
When you look closely at the flower of Arbutus unedo, you will understand why it is classed as a member of the heather (Ericaceae) or heath family. They resemble those of the heather, a larger version of its upside down urn type flowers in bowed clusters. These pretty flowers coloured white with a hint of pink, give off a soft scent of honey during their blooming period from November to December, while offering a good source of nectar and pollen for bees at a time when there isn't much else about.
As if the drooping blooms were not enough, the Killarney Strawberry tree can often be found blooming and fruiting at the same time. You see, blooming time is when the mature fruits from the previous years flowers become ripe. The lazy devils take 12 months to ripen from yellow thru pink to red, but what a show they produce when displayed in tandem with the self-fertile flowers.
It is debatable whether the knobbly bright red fruits are truly strawberry-like, although the wrong shape (rounded), their ripe colour and size are quite close to that of a strawberry. They are also edible, but unlike the strawberry, not very tasty, with an unusual mealy texture. However, everything in nature has a use, especially in Portugal, where the 2 cm diameter fruits are fermented to make a strong tasting wine with an aggressive kick.
If you like the idea of growing your own specimen of a native evergreen tree which hosts flowers and fruit together, here is what you will have to provide...
A rich, well drained soil, preferably with a neutral to slightly acid PH.
Select a location in full sun to partial shade with shelter from cold winds, especially when the plant is young.
Avoid planting Arbutus unedo where it will overhang paths, patio and driveways, as the fallen fruit, once squished, can make a difficult to remove mess.
Other forms of the plant available albeit non-native include....
Arbutus unedo "Rubra", with dark-pink flowers.
Arbutus unedo "Elfin King", a smaller cultivar growing up to 2m (6ft) tall often grown in containers.
Arbutus unedo 'Quercifolia' , a variety whose leaves look quite like those of the oak.
Joined: 30 Mar 2007 Posts: 125 Location: West Cork, Ireland
Posted: Thu May 03, 2007 10:51 pm Post subject:
Theres a good reason why it looks like it doesn't really belong here - theres a group of 15 native plants growing wild in Ireland, including the Strawberry Tree which form whats known as the Lusitanian Flora.
Most are absent from the UK and N Europe, and don't show up (as native) until you get to northern Spain and Portugal. It seems to be anybodies guess how they got here - lots of theories but thats about it. Botanical conundrum!
And yes, its a lovely tree. _________________ Irish wildflowers
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