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.
THE CORBEZZOLO IN BRIEF
Type of plant
Flowering or fruit tree or shrub
|dimensions||Up to 12 m h and 4 wide|
|Maintenance / cultivation difficulties||low|
|Rusticitа||Rustic, it fears cold winds|
|Ground||Poor, acidic; tolerates clayey ones|
|soil pH||Acid or neutral|
|use||Isolated tree, thickets, informal hedges, vase|
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.
THE CORBEZZOLO CALENDAR
Early spring / autumn
Flowers and fruits
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
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
Up to 12 m in height
Clusters of white flowers in mid-spring
Abundant and very decorative fruits.
Up to -12 ° C
Beautiful orange-pinkish bark and glossy leaves.