Pacific Madrone

Pacific Madrone © DSchiel

Arbutus menziesii
NATIVE

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

    • Eudicotyledon
      • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
    • Heath Family (Ericaceae)
    • Evergreen tree with single or multiple trunks
      • Thin, papery layers of bark peel freely, in curls or sheets
        • Newly exposed green bark quickly turns buff (light yellow-brown), maturing to orange and deep red before peeling
      • On larger trunks of mature trees, especially at the base, the bark builds up in cracking flakes
      • Bark shed year round, but especially when seasonal growth starts in fall
    • Leaves
      • Oval-shaped leaves are hard, thick, and leathery
      • Glossy, dark green on top and gray-green beneath
      • Finely toothed or smooth edged
      • Second-year leaves turn orange to red and begin to fall shortly after the new crop of leaves has fully grown
    • Flowers
      • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) a drooping panicle (a many-branching, loose flower cluster)
      • Small, white, urn-shaped flowers
      • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
    • Fruit a red berry (a usually multi-seeded fruit with a fleshy ovary wall) at maturity, with pebbled or warty skin, and contains many seeds
    • Height to 130 ft. with trunk diameter to 3 ft.
    • Can live to 200-250 years old, with some possibly 400 years old
    Bark © DSchiel

    Distribution

      • Native to California
        • Grows in conifer and oak forests
        • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
      • Outside California, grows along the West Coast from British Columbia through California into Baja California, Mexico
      • Grows at elevations between 300 and 4,900 ft.

      Uses (Picking or removing any natural material from public land is illegal)

        • Leaves browsed by deer, squirrels, and the dusky-footed woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes annectens)
        • Nectar source for bees and hummingbirds
        • Larva of western brown elfin butterfly (Incisalia augustinus iroides) feed on the buds, flowers, and developing seeds
        • Berries are an important food for many birds and mammals as they persist on the tree into winter
          • American robin (Turdus migratorius), cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum), band-tailed pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata), varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius), dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis), and California quail (Callipepla californica) are some of the birds that eat the berries
        • Cavity-nesting birds use madrone as the tree is susceptible to heart rot, which forms natural nest cavities
          • Red-breasted sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber), chestnut-backed chickadee (Poecile rufescens), house wren (Troglodytes aedon), western bluebird (Sialia mexicana), and woodpeckers nest in madrone cavities
        • Native people used madrone for many purposes
          • Leaves used to treat burns and stomach ailments
          • Infusion of leaves taken for colds
          • Infusion of bark used for cuts and wounds
          • Berries eaten in small quantities or steamed, dried, and stored for future use
          • Berries crushed for sweet, unfermented cider
          • Wood used to make utensils
        • Charcoal made from madrone wood burns hotter and longer than oak; used as a component in gunpowder
        • Bark sometimes used for tanning leather

        Name Derivation

          • Arbutus (ar-BYOO-tus) – from the Latin name for these trees, probably related to arbuscular, “little tree” or “shrub”
          • menziesii (men-ZEE-zee-eye) – named for Archibald Menzies (1754-1842), Scottish botanist and surgeon
          • Madrone – from the Spanish madrono, the common name of the related strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), native to the Mediterranean
          Flowers (L), Fruits (M), Leaves (R)
          © DSchiel (L,R), TCorelli (M)

          Adaptations

            • Hooked barbs on the dry berries latch onto animal fur, dispersing seeds
            • The bark’s red color comes from tannins and other compounds, which, along with the continual shedding, deters insects and other harmful organisms
            • Madrones, with their thin bark, are not fire resistant, but they are fire dependent
              • Rely on fires to open up the understory, reducing competition
              • Above-ground growth may be consumed, but tree can quickly resprout
              • A basal burl, also known as a lignotuber (a woody swelling of the root crown), provides fire-resistant storage of energy and sprouting buds

            Notes

              • Nicknamed the refrigerator tree
                • Place your hand on the bare trunk and note how cool it feels
                • Madrones aren’t really colder than other trees, but because they don’t have a thick layer of bark, your warm hand is closer to the xylem vascular tissue moving water and nutrients up from the cooler ground
              • Wood is hard and heavy with fine grain and little texture; cross-sections show barely visible growth rings
              • Pollinated most effectively by sonication or “buzz pollination”; see Heath family for details
              • 19th-century author Bret Harte wrote a poem to the madrone, calling it the Robin Hood of the Western woods, “green above thy scarlet hose”
              • Largest known madrone was 125 ft. tall, and more than 25 ft. in circumference
                • Burned and possibly killed in the 2016 Soberanes Fire (near Big Sur)
              • Saplings are susceptible to the fungus-like microorganism Phytophthora ramorum, which causes Sudden Oak Death (SOD)
                • The other species at Edgewood known to be susceptible to SOD is coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia var. agrifolia)
                • For a complete list of known hosts and host associates see USDA Risk Analysis for Phytophthora ramorum, pp.6-9

              ID Tips

                • May be confused with 2 other Heath family members at Edgewood — Kings Mountain manzanita (Arctostaphylos regismontana) and brittle-leaved manzanita (Arctostaphylos crustacea ssp. crustacea)
                • May also be confused at Edgewood with other evergreen trees/shrubs with similar leaves
                California CoffeeberryToyonPacific MadroneCalifornia Bay
                Growth Habitshrubshrub / treetreetree
                Height≤ 15 ft.≤ 30 ft.≤ 130 ft.≤ 148 ft.
                Leaves
                    Margin (Edge)smooth or finely toothedserratedsmoothsmooth
                    Aromaticnononoyes
                California Coffeeberry (L), Toyon (LM), Pacific Madrone (RM), California Bay (R) © DSchiel

                At Edgewood

                  • Found in woodlands
                  • Flowers March – May
                  • Fruits in winter

                  See General References

                  Specific References

                    Alexander, K. 2016, Oct. 6. Giant Pacific madrone is a likely victim of Soberanes Fire. Seattle Post Intelligencer.

                      Harte, F.B. Poem Madrono – written by Francis Bret Harte | MelodicVerses.com.

                        Oregon Islands, National Wildlife Refuge. 2016, Feb. 20. Madrones: Our Evergreen, Ever-red Trees. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

                          Reeves, S.L. 2007. Arbutus menziesii. Fire Effects Information System. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.