The Arbutus tree is a broad-leaf evergreen tree, usually with a crooked trunk that divides into several twisting upright branches that form an irregularly top. This tree is usually quite gnarled and impressive to look upon. The leaves are dark, beautiful, and glossy but are quite pale underneath, the leaves are from 7 to 12 cm long, thick, with a real feeling leathery texture.
The Flowers bloom in thick clusters of white flowers drooping at the ends of the branches, they bloom in April and May. The fruit is berry-like, 7 mm across, and bright reddish to orange color. Blossoms are bell-shaped, you can usually find flowers and fruit on the same tree as it takes a year for the fruit to mature. It looks amazing to see bright white blooms, immature fruit, and fruit that is ripe all growing on the same bush. The bark is smooth, and reddish-brown, peeling in thin flakes or strips to expose fresher bark underneath, the bark can be greenish-brown to cinnamon-red in color.
The arbutus tree grows in a narrow band that runs along the south coast and the southeast section of Vancouver Island from Victoria to Campbell River, along with a small pocket growing around Gold River. It is often found on rocky bluffs above the ocean. The arbutus tree likes to grow where there is little moisture and no shade at all. It can be found growing on dry rocky bluffs and open lands along with other tree species like Garry oak and douglas fir.
The flowers have a sweet honey smell and this attracts bees and fruit-eating birds such as robins and cedar waxwings. Arbutus bark is very rich in a substance used for tanning hides. The wood is heavy and hard, tends to be brittle, and cracks when drying. It is used only for woodworking in British Columbia.
The arbutus is the only native broadleaf evergreen tree in Canada. It is also known as the Arbutus Unedo, or the Pacific Madrone, or Madrona. Every year I have people ask me if the fruit is edible, yes it is but it’s not very fulfilling.