Today’s tree: Madrona or Madrone, Arbutus menziesii
The madrona, as I have always called them, also go by madrone. Their ever-shedding trunks are an artist’s dream, and they host beautiful clusters of berries in the fall and whitish flowers in spring. My daughter and I took these photos in our neighborhood. Madrona trees are found primarily (outside the Eastern Mediterranean) in the Pacific Northwest. Birds carry these berries far and wide as the primary method of spontaneous madrona birth.
One characteristic of the madrona is it does not like captivity, is very difficult to transplant, and resents fussing over by gardeners. My kind of free-range tree. One reason for difficulty intentionally starting new plants is its complex myccorhizal relationships (see prior fungi post) and deep roots. Many in the Seattle area flourished along cliff sides and were sacrificed for view homes, and it is believed warmer climate and pollution are partly responsible for making madronas more prone to disease. A common black leaf blight can show up during winter, but if these leaves are removed from the area routinely, this can clear up within a few years.
Along the West Coast from British Columbia to California, the madrona can be seen commonly among stands of Douglas Firs performing all sorts of contortions of limbs competing for light.
The madrona is the most iconic tree of my childhood visits to my grandparents in the Seattle area, and I hope they live long and prosper. One Seattle Times 2004 article, “Madrona: Forgotten native of the Northwest a sight to behold” shows how closely linked this tree is to the people of this region:
City madronas are reminders of getaways to the San Juan Islands, where there may be more of these trees than people. The name “madrona” is a part of our history, used for a neighborhood, a park, and schools all around Puget Sound. Even the Magnolia neighborhood should have been named for the trees, after a navy geographer in the 1850s spotted (and misidentified) them in that location from a passing ship.