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Arbutus unedo: Strawberry tree

The strawberry tree is a typical component of the southern European hardwood shrubland often known by its French name, the maquis. In bush form, it grows to be three to five meters tall. It’s a fast-growing pioneer species, notable for the speed with which it regrows after fire or clear-cutting. As part of Mediterranean oak forests or standing alone, it may also grow as a tree, reaching a height of eight to ten meters.

Arbutus gets its common name of “strawberry tree” from its fruit, which look much like strawberries. They’re many-seeded, spherical berries a little more than two centimeters across, densely covered with small, sharp bumps. While edible, these berries are not particularly tasty; their flesh is sweet, but mealy and bland.

The bark and leaves of the strawberry tree contain tannins. These are used for tanning leather, and also help against diarrhea. Tea made from the leaves is used in traditional medicine for kidney ailments and bladder inflammatations. It has a diuretic and disinfectant effect.

The tree is also vitally important to one species of butterfly, the Two-Tailed Pasha, whose caterpillars live almost exclusively from its leaves. The adult butterflies also suck liquid from its overripe, fermenting fruit. It’s found in coastal areas of the Mediterranean region and throughout Africa, with the exception of the Sahel zone.

In more temperate regions, the evergreen strawberry tree is a popular decorative plant by virtue of its attractive flowers, fruits, and leaves. However, winters in Germany are too cold to plant it outdoors.

Audio file download
Arbutus unedo: Strawberry tree (MP3, 744 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Ehrentraud Bayer, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg

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