Strawberry tree - Arbutus unedo

Il Corbezzolo

The arbutus, whose Latin name is arbutus unedo, is an elegant shrub of medium-large dimensions, with a rather disordered development, evergreen; It is highly appreciated in gardens thanks to its brilliant and persistent foliage and reddish bark.
The strawberry tree is a small tree or shrub widespread throughout the Mediterranean area. Thanks to its persistent leaves, its pleasant flowering and abundant decorative fruits it is becoming fashionable again and it is not uncommon to see it used also in small city gardens as a single specimen or for the creation of rustic hedges. Thanks to some new cultivars with very small dimensions it is possible to grow a specimen also in pots, on balconies and terraces.
In Italy, and throughout the Mediterranean area, it is also widespread in nature, especially in the central areas of the peninsula, where it often forms small groves; flowering takes place in winter, and lasts a few weeks: the plant produces small bell-shaped flowers, white, gathered in large clusters. The flowers that ripen in autumn follow the flowers; these are berries similar to large spherical strawberries, with a slightly sweet taste; the arbutus can be eaten raw or in jam, but it is important to eat them at the right point of ripeness, too immature or too ripe can result from the unpleasant taste.
In fact they are cultivated more as ornamental plants than for fruits, in fact the adjective unedo that accompanies the name comes from the Latin "unum edo", or I eat only one, since it is not juicy and fragrant fruits; the strawberry trees are also used in herbal medicine, but they contain many tannins, which can be irritating.

Let's place it in the garden

Arbutus unedo plants, the strawberry trees, prefer well-sunny potions, especially in regions with harsh winter; they can withstand temperatures below zero, and even prolonged frosts and quite intense. In areas where winters are really cold, in the mountains for example, it is advisable to protect them during the colder weeks of the year, to prevent the foliage and flowers from being damaged.
These shrubs need a good fresh soil, deep and rich in organic matter; therefore when we put them to dwelling remember to prepare the hole mixing to the soil of well-mature manure, and even a little bit of sand and soil for acidophilic plants; especially if we have a very clayey or excessively compact soil.


Type of plant

Flowering or fruit tree or shrub
Foliage Persistent
dimensions Up to 12 m h and 4 wide
Maintenance / cultivation difficulties low
Growth slow
RusticitŠ° Rustic, it fears cold winds
Exposure Sun-shade
Water needs Low
Ground Poor, acidic; tolerates clayey ones
soil pH Acid or neutral
use Isolated tree, thickets, informal hedges, vase

Crop care

Arbutus unedo shrubs are quite easy to grow, especially because they live in the wild in our peninsula; in the garden it may happen that they do not find enough space to enlarge their roots, so it is important to check that in summer they receive a good amount of water, if the climatic conditions are particularly dry. Therefore, if it does not rain for at least 18-25 days, we supply the already developed shrub with a good amount of water, added to a fertilizer for green plants. The young specimens of Arbutus unedo, recently planted, will instead be watered more regularly, from May to September, every 10-15 days. We avoid to place our strawberry tree in a very humid area or with soil soaked with water, because stagnant water is dangerous for the health of the plant and could cause root rot.
Pruning must be done very carefully, in fact throughout the year the plant has flowers or fruits; so if necessary we will go to prune the branches that do not bring blooming.

Characteristics of the strawberry tree

The strawberry tree is a shrub or small tree: in cultivation it reaches a maximum height of 5 meters while, where it is endemic, it can easily exceed 10-12 meters. Its radical apparatus is characterized by a central tap-hole capable of reaching even 10 meters of depth: this makes it extremely resistant to drought. For this reason it is advisable to put him at home at a young age and, later on, to absolutely avoid the movements.
Usually it takes on a bushy shape, characterized by numerous basal jets: it is therefore very suitable for use as an isolated specimen or for the creation of barriers, very decorative and inhabited by a multitude of wild animals.
Another element that makes it sought are the beautiful tortuous branches, covered by a very fibrous bark, of greyish brown color. As they age, they fall apart leaving a glimpse of orange tones. Furthermore, the secondary branches take on reddish shades for a long time, making the whole even more pleasant.
A stimulating contrast is formed with the persistent dark green glossy foliage. The single leaf is oval in shape and with a serrated edge, about 10 cm long.

Strawberry tree flowers and fruits

Another point in favor of the strawberry tree is its ability to simultaneously prune flowers, vintage products, and fruits, which ripen from the previous year. The former have the shape of pink or white bells, gathered in groups and represent an irresistible attraction for bees and other pollinators (in fact in some areas, for example in Sardinia, arbutus honey is very appreciated and widespread).
The fruit is a fleshy red-orange colored berry with small points on its skin. The pulp is white, with a floury and grainy consistency, due to the presence of numerous calcium oxalate seeds and crystals. The taste is very particular: at the same time acid and sugary. They are edible even from raw, generally they are used by cooked, for the preparation of jams and juices. In these preparations the sweet taste takes over and the whole is more palatable.

Origins of the Strawberry Tree

The strawberry tree (Arbutus Unedo) belongs to the Ericaceae family. The genus includes 12 species of trees, mostly originating from the American continent, in particular from Mexico and the southern states of the U.S.A.
The most widespread at horticultural level are however endemic to the Mediterranean area: the Arbutus Unedo and the Arbutus Andrachne.
The former is widespread in the natural state along all the coasts of the European continent, particularly in those characterized by siliceous soil, for example near volcanic areas: it does not fear fires and heat, given that it is among the first to create new jets from the roots, after the passage of the fire. It is used extensively for afforestation.
Its capillary diffusion is however due to its adaptability: it grows without difficulty even in medium loamy or poor soils.

Exposure and soil of the arbutus unedo

The strawberry tree is a tree tolerant especially towards poor and dry or saline soils (such as those of the coasts). In order to grow vigorously (as much as possible) it is advisable to place it in acid-reaction soil, therefore with a good amount of leaf or heath soil. Mix sand, pumice or pozzolana to help drainage and make the whole lighter.
The ideal exposure ranges from full sun to partial shade. It also tolerates the shading of other trees, particularly conifers, which will also help keep the substrate at an adequate pH.

Ideal climate

The Arbutus Unedo can be defined as medium rustic. It bears even -15 ° C without damage and remaining evergreen. It can therefore be grown safely almost anywhere, with the exception of mountain areas above 800 in altitude. In Northern Italy it is only recommended to place it in a location sheltered from cold winds.
However, we keep in mind that it is basically a thermophilic plant and in the central-southern regions it will grow faster. In the North, given its slowness in development, we will have to have a lot of patience before seeing it flourish and fructify abundantly.

Watering and irrigation

This tree is extremely resistant to drought. In addition to the roots capable of reaching great depths, it also has the ability to drastically reduce transpiration: irrigation is mostly superfluous for a freed individual. The specimens recently planted should instead be followed a little more assiduously.

Fertilize the strawberry tree

The strawberry tree grows well even in poor soils. To obtain good growth, flowering and fruiting it is however useful to make a slow release granular fertilizer at the beginning of spring with a good dose of phosphorus and potassium, following the doses recommended by the producer. It is also useful, around November, to distribute mature manure in the area covered by the foliage. This will keep the substrate vital and contribute to the improvement of its texture.

Pruning of the strawberry tree

Given the slow growth, the strawberry tree pruning is not a strictly necessary intervention, even if the strawberry tree tolerates the cuts well. The best time to operate is the end of summer.
To enhance the shape of the trunk and the color of the bark we can eliminate the side branches in the lower part. This technique can also be useful for setting a sapling specimen.
Of course it is important to engage in eliminating dead, sick or too old branches. Eventually we can decide to open the center of the plant to favor the passage of light and air.

Strawberry tree cultivation

It is a very independent plant and once franked it does not require special care. In northern regions it may be useful to cover the trunk with insulating material during the cold season, especially for young specimens recently planted.

How to plant the strawberry tree

Proceed preferably at the end of the summer (or late spring in the northern regions). We dig a very deep hole and prepare a thick draining layer. We incorporate to the soil, especially if compact, a good quantity of forest earth and sand with which we will cover the roots after having inserted the specimen. We always choose young plants because they radically and deeply root in our soil, without undergoing transplant stress.
If we want to cultivate the potted strawberry tree we will have to opt for a container at least 40 cm deep, with a very light compost, where there is plenty of sand and soil for acidophilic plants.

How to multiply the strawberry tree

New trees can be obtained by cutting or layering. Sowing is possible, but it is a really long process.
For the layering we proceed at the end of spring:
- A horizontal incision is made on a branch of about 2 cm in diameter, in a shaded position.
- The branch is wrapped with a black plastic bag and filled with a light mixture, possibly combining moss or decomposing plant material, moistening slightly
- We close and tighten tightly with raffia
- From time to time we check that the substrate is slightly damp.
- The emission of the roots is very slow and we will not be able to divide the branch from the mother plant before two years.

Strawberry tree - Arbutus unedo: Harvest and use of strawberry tree fruits

The harvest can take place from October to December, depending on the region in which we live and the exhibition. Indicatively the fruits will be ready when the peel appears very red and will be soft to the touch. They are kept for a short time so it is advisable to consume them as soon as possible or use them for making compotes or drinks.



Early spring / autumn
Flowering October December
Collection October December
Pruning Summer end

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Flowers and fruits

Other characteristics

Arbutus unedo

Typical species, widespread throughout the Mediterranean

Height up to 5 m, width up to 4

White flowers, from September to January, fruits up to 2 cm in diameter, orange

The first fruits are seen 8 years after planting. Rustic up to -15 ° C


3 meters in all directions

Very early and floriferous. Suitable for growing in pots


Up to 2 meters

Loaded pink flowers

Very rustic and drought resistant. Also from a vase

Arbutus andrachne

Kind species

Up to 12 m in height

Large bouquets of white flowers at the beginning of spring.
Abundant red fruits in autumn

Up to -20 ° C Very shiny leaves.
Smooth brown-reddish bark that flakes leaving a glimpse of cream or green edges

Arbutus x andrachnoides

Hybrid between the previous two

Up to 9 meters

White flowers from autumn to spring

Up to -20 ° C.
Bark similar to that of the andrachne

Arbutus menziesii

Kind species

Up to 12 m in height

Clusters of white flowers in mid-spring
Abundant and very decorative fruits.

From California.
Up to -12 ° C
Beautiful orange-pinkish bark and glossy leaves.