Exposure of the strawberry tree
The strawberry tree loves the sunny positions, but adapts well in the semi-shaded places, especially if cultivated in very warm zones; it does not fear the cold, even if the young plants are to be sheltered in cold greenhouse, or sheltered on non-woven fabric, at least for the first two years of life. I arbutus do not particularly like cold, dry winds, even if they adapt to wet winds from the sea.
This tree, under the right climatic conditions, is very adaptable. It grows well both in full sun and in a shady position (for example under maritime pines). If grown in the North, it is advisable to place it in a warm and well exposed area (for example towards the South), but taking care that in winter it is protected from cold currents (which could cause copper desiccation and damage to leaves and flowers, compromising the fructification).
The strawberry tree, after years of oblivion, is returning to great fashion and is increasingly used both as an ornamental tree and as a fruit tree. This renewed interest is due to the beauty of its fruits and leaves as well as the undeniable virtue of brightening the garden with its flowering during the autumn, a season in which the other plants are not very attractive and are preparing to rest.
It is also very resistant to drought and fire, making it suitable for low-maintenance Mediterranean gardens.
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The botanical name, Arbutus unedo (= I eat only one), was assigned to it by Pliny the Elder, making a clear allusion to the poor taste of its fruits.
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1 Strawberry tree plant Arbutus Unedo
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It is a plant with a common name that is sometimes used to express constipation, surprise or discomfort. We are talking about the strawberry tree, an evergreen and perennial species native to the Mediterranean. How many times do we hear, in fact, the exclamation “strawberry trees…!”, which, in turn, is a synonym of “perbacco!”. The strawberry tree described in this cultivation card has, however, a precise botanical name, which we will see better in the following paragraphs.
IL CORBEZZOLO IN BREVE
Family, genus and species
Ericaceae, gen. Shrub with about 12 species
In cultivation up to 5 meters; dwarf cultivars even only 2 meters
Strawberry tree, albacore, sea cherry,
Mediterranean Basin, Mexico and South of the U.S.A .
Type of plant
Medium-sized tree, can be grown as a shrub
Clusters, white or pink
Glossy, dark green, persistent
Medium rustic (there are very resistant cultivars); it fears cold winds;
Sun; also half shade and shadow (in the south and on the coasts)
Preferably neutral or sub-acid, possibly siliceous or volcanic.
Autonomous after first year
Garden ornamental, hedge, large vase
It does not need large quantities of water, it certainly prefers drought to excessive watering; usually it should be watered only in particularly dry years. It is advisable to bury good organic fertilizer at the foot of the plant in the spring, to promote its optimal development.
It’s a tree with very limited needs. Once it has taken root, it will be almost autonomous. Our contribution can be useful during the first vintage by engaging, in the absence of rain, in frequent irrigation. They will gradually be reduced so that the root system reaches the maximum depth that characterizes it.
In the north, only in the early years, it may be useful to protect the canopy with special fabric.
The strawberry tree is a medium-sized tree: in its spontaneous state it can reach a height of up to 15 metres, while in cultivation it rarely exceeds 5 metres. The root system is particularly developed: it can reach a depth of up to 15 metres. This makes it resistant to flames and drought, but also very difficult to eradicate or transplant elsewhere. Its gait is expanded and is characterized by the presence of multiple trunks with an extremely ornamental appearance.
Their course is curved and tortuous and the bark is very particular: very scaly and fibrous with shades ranging from gray to orange. The foliage is very dense and made attractive by the large mass of shiny leaves, dark green and lighter back. Its appearance is further enhanced by the colouring of the young secondary branches: a reddish colour that creates an attractive contrast with the main leaves and trunks.
The flowers, pink or white, are produced in autumn (usually from mid-September onwards): they are bell-shaped (similar to those of heather) and are collected in beautiful hanging bunches, fragrant and particularly appreciated by pollinating insects.
The peculiarity of this tree, however, is linked to the fact that the adult specimens, in autumn, can flourish and simultaneously bring to maturity the fruits produced in the year. They are similar in shape and size to cherries, but covered with a hard skin and has many tips. They are edible and are used mainly for the production of juices and jams.
IL CALENDARIO DEL CORBEZZOLO
October-November (south and coasts); April (north)
Soil, temperature and exposure
The strawberry tree prefers poor, rocky soils, certainly very well drained. In the garden it is advisable to promote drainage by placing coarse material on the bottom of the hole in which we want to bury the plant, for this purpose we can use perlite or pumice stone, possibly not too fine.
The ideal soil for the shrub must be deep, well drained and possibly siliceous, with an acid reaction. In Italy, the areas of choice are coastal or volcanic. However, it can also be cultivated in calcareous soils provided that they are not clayey and compact: its root system, in fact, is particularly afraid of water stagnations and, once free, greatly prefers drought to excessive humidity.
For cultivation in large pots we choose a compote for citrus fruits, to which we can add, to lighten, a little ‘pozzolana or pumice stone.
To facilitate drainage, pumice stone or coarse perlite should be inserted into the soil. The ideal temperature for this plant is mild, warm and typically Mediterranean. The young strawberry tree fears the cold and icy winds. The unedo shrutus also loves sunny exposures, but it can also withstand semi-shady ones, as long as there are no low or icy temperatures and cold, dry winds.
The young plant, in particular, fears very much the rigid temperatures and the cold winds, for this reason, during the first two years of planting, it is better to cultivate it in greenhouse. No problem, on the contrary, if the plant is exposed to the humid winds coming from the sea.
At the end of the winter we can sow the strawberry tree seeds in a mixture of peat and sand in equal parts, which is to be kept moist, in a bright and protected place, until spring, when the new plants will begin to grow. The little ones arbutus are quite delicate, so it is advisable to avoid exposing them in full sun or strong wind. Before planting new plants it is advisable to keep them in a greenhouse for at least two years.
The multiplication can happen also by cutting, to be done in winter, also in this case the rooted cuttings, usually about the 30% of the buried ones, are to be kept in a protected place for 1-2 years before being placed in the ground.
Parasites and diseases of the strawberry tree
This plant is not afraid of pests or diseases, although sometimes black aphids can cause some damage.
The strawberry tree tends to get sick more frequently in areas where the climate is not exactly ideal, such as areas with a continental climate, such as the cities of northern Italy. More than the climate, however, is the wrong exposure that does more damage to the plant.
When the strawberry tree is planted in areas with little light it suffers, being, as already mentioned, a heliophilous plant (who loves the sun) and with a Mediterranean climate.
In strawberry trees planted in areas of the garden with little light are more frequent attacks of aphids and the resulting soot, black fungi that cover the leaves on which falls the honeydew produced by aphids.
The strawberry trees planted in the wrong positions are also more difficult to bear fruit than other strawberry trees but especially grow more in height because as a reaction to the shadow, try to push up towards the light.
Leaves, flowers and fruits
The arbutus unedo, i.e. the strawberry tree, has oval leaves, with toothed margins and an intense green colour. The flowers are formed by about twenty groups of specimens consisting of a closed corolla in whose apical part emerge only the upper tips of the petals. This inflorescence, called “urceolate”, is typical of many plants belonging to the ericaceae. In the strawberry tree, the flower corolla shows only five points called “teeth”.
In this plant, the flowers have a color ranging from white to pink. The inflorescences are hermaphrodite, that is, inside them have both the masculine organs (stamens) and the feminine ones (ovary). The abustus unedo flowers from September to March. The fruits are round berries with globular surface and dark pulp containing the seeds. The colouration of these berries is first green, then yellow and finally reddish or orange.
The fruits, which are formed the previous year, ripen from September to March and just during the development of the flowers. In the strawberry tree, in fact, flowers and fruits appear at the same time.
Fertiliser and irrigation
The unedo shrub must be fertilized with complex fertilizers NPK or based on nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium or with organic fertilizers to be buried at the foot of the plant. Fertilization prepares the plant to withstand the rigours of winter. As for watering, the strawberry tree does not need too much water. In hot periods it is necessary to intervene every ten or fifteen days. Watering should be suspended in case of rainy season.
Repotting and pruning
The arbutus unedo or strawberry tree is to be repotted in spring in the same mould used for the first planting. After three or four years, the plant is to be buried in the open field. This new planting serves to strengthen the root system. The strawberry tree does not need to be pruned. The only interventions concern the elimination of dry and damaged parts and branches out of place.
The shrub is extremely tolerant of pruning: it can therefore be left to grow with its natural habit, but it can also be systematically cut to create beautiful border hedges.
Useful can be eliminating the branches at the base to highlight the beautiful color of the bark and the knotty shape of the trunks. An excellent alternative is also the sapling growth, choosing, already at a young age, a single central stem, the most straight, to be preserved, eliminating the others.
Propagation and diseases
The strawberry tree propagates by seed and by cutting. The seeds are buried in spring, in a mixture of sand and peat in equal parts, whilst the semi-woody cuttings are taken in summer. The woody cuttings, on the contrary, can be propagated also in winter. The small plants born from the remains of the mother plant must be kept indoors or in a greenhouse for the first two years. Afterwards, they can be normally planted.
The strawberry tree is a plant very resistant to diseases. In some cases there may be attacks of black aphids or other adversities caused by unsuitable soil and excess moisture. An excessively acid soil can cause ferric chlorosis, while a slightly drained and moist soil can cause radical rottenness.
The strawberry tree can be propagated either by seed (which requires winter stratification in order to germinate) or by layering. The latter is carried out in early summer on branches of about 2 cm in diameter. It may take up to two years for the roots to be released.
Property and Meaning
The strawberry tree has beneficial medicinal properties. It is in fact an antiseptic, astringent and diuretic plant. The fruits are also very rich in sugars and vitamin C. They should therefore be avoided in case of diabetes. In the language of plants and flowers, strawberry trees represent esteem. Its botanical name, arbutus unedo, was given by Pliny the Elder, who used this term in reference to the lack of taste of the fruit. In fact, the name means “I eat only one”.
The poet Virgil, in the Aeneid, tells that the relatives of the deceased used to place branches of strawberry trees on the tombs.
Up to 5 m high and 4 m wide
Bianchi, from September to January
Orange, then red, 2 cm in diameter
It takes at least 8 years to bear fruit.
Very rustic, if sheltered from the winds
Arbutus Unedo ‘Compacta’
Up to 3 meters in height and width
Bianchi, from September to January
Orange, then red, 2 cm in diameter
It flowers and bears fruit from the early years.
Arbutus Unedo ‘Rubra’
Up to 2 meters in all directions
Pink, from September to January.
Very rustic and drought-resistant
Arbutus Unedo ‘Atlantic’
Up to 2 meters in all directions
Bianchi, from September to January
Red, up to 4 cm in diameter
Grows well even in pots
Arbutus Unedo “Elfin King
Nanissimo, maximum 1.5 meters
Bianchi, from September to January
Red, medium size
Suitable for pots and low hedges
Up to 12 m high
White in bunches, early spring
In autumn, dark red, about 1.5 cm in diameter
Beautiful shiny leaves with a smooth edge.
Old reddish bark peeling off, new green bark. Very rustic and very resistant to drought
Arbutus x andrachnoides
Up to 9 meters high
Bianchi, in November
Redish bark, very rustic. Hybrid.
In cultivation up to 10 meters
White grapes harvested in large clusters in mid-spring
Small, smooth fruits, bright red
Toothed leaves with a very clear backside. Very ornamental orange bark.
Resistant to -10°C, suitable for wetlands.
Classification and origins
The genus Arbutus is rather wide: in fact, about 12 species belong to it. The most common in our country (Arbutus unedo, Arbutus andrachne and Arbutus x andrachnoides) originate from the Mediterranean basin, in particular from eastern areas such as Greece, the coasts of Turkey and the Black Sea.
In Italy they are now naturalized (they were certainly already present in the territory at the time of the Romans), but are equally widespread in the coastal areas of Spain, France and southern Ireland (thanks to the work of birds, greedy for its fruits and helping to distribute the seeds)
It has a strong predilection for siliceous soils and is increasingly used to repopulate areas affected by fire, in combination with cork oak and holm oak: it is in fact extremely resistant to heat and can quickly extract from the roots because they develop at great depths.
The remaining species are a more recent discovery and are endemic to the warm-temperate areas of the American continent (especially the north). Among these, the most widespread at horticultural level is undoubtedly the Arbutus menziesii.
The planting is preferably carried out in autumn, in regions with a warm climate; in the north, however, it is advisable to proceed at the end of spring to give the plant time to free itself before the arrival of low temperatures. We always choose small plants to avoid that the root system (from fast development) is irreparably damaged by the operation. Let’s also remember to dig a deep hole, work the soil well and make the walls penetrable by breaking them up several times with a pitchfork.
Strawberry tree – Arbutus: Harvesting and use of fruit
Fruits should be harvested when they reach a very intense red colour and start to feel soft to the touch. We monitor our plant carefully and act as soon as possible: they are in fact very appetized by birds and we risk seeing ourselves stealing a good part of our harvest! We must also work carefully so as not to ruin the bunches of flowers that will bear fruit next year!
They can be used in many ways: without cooking you can get a puree to be seasoned with sugar and lemon and eaten by the spoon.
Otherwise you can make very good and special jams: usually is enough half the weight of the fruits (cleaned and washed) in sugar and half the juice of lemon. Let’s cook until the consistency is not ideal: let’s pot the hot compote, after having sterilized both the jars and the caps. Turn the jars upside down so that the vacuum forms.
Watch the Video
- The strawberry tree, common name of Arbutus Unedo, is native to the Mediterranean region, but also the Canary Islands and Ame
to visit : arbutus tree