Strawberry Tree Curse

by Green Deane

in Alcohol, Edible Raw, Fruits/Berries, Jam/Jelly, Plants, Trees/Shrubs

Strawberry Tree Koumaria

Strawberry Tree, Koumaria, Koumara, Pacific Madrone, Madrona

Any plant called “strawberry” other than a strawberry is doomed. Strawberries pack a lot of particular flavor and sweetness. Most other things called strawberry do not.

The Strawberry Guava doesn’t. The Indian Strawberry doesn’t. The Strawberry Tree doesn’t, and its sibling, the other Strawberry Tree doesn’t either. These four fruits have their own flavor and appeal that gets lost in the pronouncement that they are not as good as the strawberry. And that is accurate. None of them are as extroverted as the strawberry, but they are not strawberries. You have to get past that.

Like the rest, the Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo,  is doomed in English, as Arbutus mensiesii related Strawberry Tree. In Greek the former is called Koumaria (koo-mar-ree-AH) which is also the name of a town and a heck  of a lot of hotels. The perfectly round fruit of the tree, a favorite of children, is called Koumara (no i.) Goats love the leaves, as do deer. But best of all, Koumara are Koumara, and they’re good unto themselves. A. unedo takes a year to put on fruit and ripen so it is loosing fruit just about the time it is flowering again. Called madronos in Spanish, Corbezzolo in Italian, and sometimes Bearberry in English as well as the Apple of Cain and Cain Apple. The fruit smells like anise but doesn’t taste like that, more along the lines of a woody strawberry, or a cross between guava and nectarine However, unripe it can cause nausea, on the other hand it can ferment on the branch and cause mild intoxication. From a health point of view it does have Vitamin C. The bark has tannins for working leather or as a dye.

A. mensiesii aka A. menziesii

The second Strawberry Tree is A. mensiesii, also called the Pacific Madrone, or Madrona. Native to northwestern North America, it can be found cultivate in non-hot areas of the country. Every Septamber I get several emails from folks wondering if the fruit is edible because there are Internet reports that it is toxic. It is not. Most folks think it is some kind of dogwood, but it is not. It’s berries are edible but astringent. The Indians made them into cider or just chewed them. A more distant relative, the Mayflower, or the Trailing Arbutus, is also an edible. See a separate entry for that.

Arbutus (arb-YEW-tus) means struggle.  Unedo (YOU-nee-doe)  means “I eat only one” from the Latin unum edo. That can be read two ways: It is so good I only eat one, or it is rather it is uninteresting thus I only eat one. We got that in 50 AD from Pliny the Elder (23 AD – August 25, 79), and we don’t know which he meant. Mensiesii honors the discoverer, Archibald Menzies (1754-1842), a Scottish physician and naturalist.

The Arbutuses are in the heath family. Oddly, A. unedo also grows in Ireland where in Gaelic it is called Caithne. Some think it is a pre-ice age hold over. In might have been introduced by the Beaker People around 4,000 BC according to pollen found in bogs.  Incidentally, there is an old Irish folk song “My Love’s An Arbrutus.” The words are by the recipes below.

Koumaria in blossom

Several species in the genus Arbutus are ornamentals. A. andrachne (the Eastern Strawberry Tree) has small non-edible berries and cinnamon-colored bark. It is often confused with a hybrid, A. andrachnoides , which has small, hard non-edible fruit and perfectly smooth bark ranging from deep red to bright yellow. Fruit of the Arbutus marina, however, is edible.

When I travel back to the “old country” the two things I notice about plants is how many familiar ones there are. Weeds are cosmopolitan. Then there are the natives. Edible figs grow wild in southern Greece, as does the deadly Oleander but also thyme, basil, savory, rosemary, oregano and marjoram. In Crete the fruit of the Koumaria is made into a local distillation called Koumaro. Having visited Crete many times I think the Cretans can make tail pipe-kicking radiator fluid out of nearly anything.


Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile


IDENTIFICATION: The Strawberry Tree, grows to 15 to 35 feet tall, evergreen leaves are dark green, glossy, two to four inches long, up to an inch wide with a serrated edge.Young leaves have red veins.  Blossoms are white (occasionally pale pink), bell-shaped, like a blueberry blossom, honey scented. Fruit is a red berry to 3/4 of an inch through,  rough surface, maturing 12 months. In southern US the tree is about 10 feet tall. Older specimens have gnarled trunk and branches. Many cultivars including “Compacta, Rubra, Elifn King, Quercifolia, Croomei, Melita, and Werner.

TIME OF YEAR: Fruit usually ripens in later summer or fall. Mealy, amber flesh. Tree blooms autumn into winter

ENVIRONMENT: Native to rocky well-drained soil, full sun except in deserts where it needs partial shade

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Out of hand, jams, jellies, pies, candied fruit, wine and spirits. See recipes below.

 Strawberry Tree Jam

Two pounds of fruit

A pound of sugar

Four ounces orange liquor

Slowly boil the fruit with a little water until soft. Press through a mill then reheat with the sugar and liqueur. Simmer until a drop mounds on a chilled dish.

Option: Add some cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla for added flavor.

Strawberry Tree Jelly

Arbutus berries, sugar, water.

Rinse fruits. Put them in a preserving pan and cover with cold water almost completely. . Bring on the heat and cook for about fifteen minutes over low heat. Pass the fruit through a cheesecloth, pressing well to catch any juice.

Weigh it.  Mix the juice with its weight of sugar.  Simmer over low heat, skimming rather soft at times. Cooking is complete when the juice forms small beads. Cool before placing in jars.

My Love’s An Arbutus

My love’s an arbutus
By the borders of Lene,
So slender and shapely
In her girdle of green.
And I measure the pleasure
Of her eye’s sapphire sheen
By the blue skies that sparkle
Through the soft branching screen.

But though ruddy the berry
And snowy the flower
That brighten together
The arbutus bower,
Perfuming and blooming
Through sunshine and shower,
Give me her bright lips
And her laugh’s pearly dower.

Alas, fruit and blossom
Shall lie dead on the lea,
And Time’s jealous fingers
Dim your young charms, Machree.
But unranging, unchanging,
You’ll still cling to me,
Like the evergreen leaf
To the arbutus tree.

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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy May 5, 2017 at 22:17

My tree which is 10 years old has just turned ..all the leaves are broken and crusty with a mold …Why?? Help I love this tree. I am in white rock ,B.C. Can it be the cold? Any answers would help .. what do I do to save it ..Thank you .


Luke December 13, 2016 at 15:53

These grow on my school campus and we pick and eat them


MAX August 3, 2016 at 12:41

Try the Strawberry Tree fruit called Muntingia Calabura.


Mike O March 27, 2016 at 23:29

Several of these are growing on the grounds at the Boeing Airplane plant in Everett, WA where I work. I didn’t know what it was but I decided to nibble on a fruit. It tasted good so I figured it wasn’t poison so I ate the whole thing. Nothing happened so the next day I ate a handful. It was my little secret, I never saw anyone else eat them. I was amazed they were ripe all October and November, perhaps longer.


Evalynn Barrett December 13, 2016 at 18:58

I live in Snohomish and have a tree. Mine doesn’t bear a whole lot of fruit. This year maybe slightly more than a dozen. My curiosity has gotten the best of me and I’ve taken a bite. It was very seedy. Similar to a raspberry. The taste was bland and flesh was colored like a peach. In fact, the taste reminds me of a bland peach. The hummingbirds love the blossoms. I wish I had it in a less shady exposure as I’m sure it would do better. One of my garden favorites.


Suzanne February 20, 2016 at 12:26

I have two arbutus unedo which are about 15 years old. They bore flowers and fruit when I first got them but have never done so again although the last two years flowers appeared but yet no fruit. Can you offer suggestions on what might be the problem. Ps. They are on the east coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia Canada


SVJ November 6, 2015 at 04:41

Does anybody know the origin of the name in English? As an official tourist guide, there is always a debate when I translate the name from the Spanish “Madroño” to the English or German “Strawberry Tree or Erdbeerenbaum”. The visitors think I don’t know what a real strawberry is!! Looking for these answers is how I came across this interesting website. Thanks for it!!


Russ October 20, 2015 at 17:48

We have a 25 year old Arbutus unedo that fruits heavily every year. Wish I had planted this beautiful tree away from the driveway as the fruit are a real mess and tracks everywhere. Anyone know how to prevent fruiting?


treeGuy October 26, 2016 at 09:54

I would move if I were you. The more the fruiting frustrates you, the more the tree will fruit.


laurel June 10, 2015 at 19:45

We are thinking about planting a strawberry tree in our front yard. We had to remove our jacaranda because of a neighbor complaining all the time about how messy it was. Obviously we do not want another messy tree. Are Strawberry trees messy?

Thanks you


Janice July 3, 2015 at 21:32

I would say they are messier than a jacaranda. When the fruit ripens, it will fall to the ground on its own. Our neighbours have one that hangs over our back fence. Because the fruit falls onto the grass, we just leave it there. But if it was falling onto a patio or a sidewalk, it would get smooshed and be messy/sticky.

We would not let our kids play with the berries until we found this site. We used to tell them that they were poisonous!


Marta March 9, 2015 at 08:05

Hi My Tree is about 3 years old and is growing well but no flowers at all. is there a reason for this?


Margaret Taylor March 2, 2015 at 01:02

Margaret The psidium guava which grew in the garden when I was a child was a small shrub,not even two metres high in the 14 years I lived there.The one I have now is four years old, it had one fruit when it was in the ground last year but I have moved to a rental house and it is quite large. I have it in a large pot and it has had flowers but no fruit. I delighted in the flavour of that one fruit. Can you help me to get some fruit? I might even be brave enough to try the tea Thank you for this site Regards M


Cara January 18, 2015 at 22:09

Muntingia calabura is also known as Strawberry tree, at least here in S. Fl & although the fruit is decent, it’s nothing like a strawberry, either in taste or shape. The fruit is pink, not red.


Ben January 12, 2015 at 04:08

Good day, I live in Strand Western Cape. South Africa. We planted this tree Arbutus Unedo about 10 years ago. It flowers but does not form any berries. Do you know why?


Green Deane January 12, 2015 at 07:13

Is it the only one?


Mary December 1, 2014 at 11:54

Like Thad, I was looking these up as I’ve seen them at light rail stations in Sacramento, CA. They’re so pretty, never imagined they’d be edible. The berries are truly beautiful, though they tend to ripen, fall, and get smashed all around as the stations don’t get cleaned as often as they could be.


Verna Bode November 28, 2014 at 19:00

We have an Irish strawberry tree which has been growing in our garden for about fifty years. It is massive & seems to be quite healthy, however over the last few weeks it exudes a sticky substance over everything it overshadows. This happens at night. This has never happened before. Can anyone tell me what is happening. Is it dying? It is summer here now.
Sydney aust.


SJ May 9, 2015 at 13:35

I suspect you have an aphid problem, which means you have an ant problem. Generally, if you control the ants the aphid population will die down.


Melissa April 5, 2017 at 14:48

Perhaps aphids? Good luck 🙂


deb November 23, 2014 at 11:50

I just wanted to remind everyone to be careful where you eat your fruit. My particular Strawberry Tree is susceptible to aphids and whiteflies. Several in my neighborhood have succumbed to them. I treat mine with a systemic and that would make the berries not safe to eat. So if the Strawberry tree is not yours in your yard please be careful. Hugs! deb


SVJ November 6, 2015 at 04:34

Thanks for that information. I live in Madrid, and sometimes I eat them of the tree. Never thought of that. I’ll ask the authorities. They grow along many streets! Susana


Carole November 15, 2014 at 23:11

I’ve got some of these trees in my backyard and every once in awhile I’ll try one that looks particularly ripe and red… the flavor is very good — guava, peach-like — mild… and just when you think “wow these are sort of nice,” then you get the grittiness of the seeds (?) which may be why the unedo “only one” meaning applies… but this article has enticed me to try them cooked, maybe the jam… they are ripe now and starting to fall from the tree so perfect timing… thanks!


Helena October 30, 2014 at 14:23

Great article, I planted 8 large multi-branched Marinas in full sun some years ago East bay of San Fran and have grown to love the ripe berries just off the trees but not all have fruited yet. Would love to know what nutrients they contain? Hope the trees don’t get too tall. Trees around here seem to have some brown leaves along with the green ones but look otherwise healthy. Wonder if that is just normal? Thanks.


Colleen Rode October 22, 2014 at 15:19

I can guarantee that Pliny the Elder called it unedo due to its uninteresting flavour. Many times I have tasted the Arbutus berries where they grow abundantly on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, and I have never reached for a second berry. The plain taste does not justify it!


Lukkas January 1, 2015 at 03:09

Sort of depends on your perspective, December-ripening fruit pretty much doesn’t exist up here in the northern part of the PNW.

Would I eat these were ripe blackberries, blackcaps, thimbleberries and huckleberries available? Probably not (although IMO the flavor is about as good as the average Salmon berry) but they’re nice for the season.

If you’ve preserved some of the above more interesting berries, thawing or re-hydrating them and mashing them together with the Tree-strawberries is pretty good too. (In particular, Blackberry+Treestrawberry jam doesn’t actually require any sugar due to the pectin in the blackberries, and given the time of year it could be stored in an enclosed container outside without consuming refrigerator space so the lack of sugar’s preservative properties is irrelevant.)


Jenny September 26, 2014 at 15:13

Thanks for this strawberry tree profile. I have several in my backyard – the Pacific Madrone type.

I also have a new puppy who quite loves to eat the berries. Do you know anything about their safety for dogs? I’m trying to keep her out of them, but she makes a beeline for the ground under the tree any time she can.

Thanks for any further info.


Carole November 15, 2014 at 23:05

I have 3 of these trees in my backyard. My dogs used to get one or two berries every once in awhile when they were puppies and almost always vomited them later. Now they don’t even bother with them.


Patricia Thompson May 4, 2014 at 02:17

Thank you for the arbutus jam recipes. I live in New Zealand and my garden is ankle deeo in fallen strawberry fruit right now. A friend makes wine from tbe fruit but jam appeals more. Our native tui birds also gorge themselves on the rotting fruit and then career drunkenly round the garden.


Cedar May 10, 2014 at 22:45

Please, what is the recipe for this jam? I have got the tree in my garden and the birds seem to like the fruit though it seems pretty tasteless to my palate, but I would like to try making jam with it, perhaps a bit of lemon juice would spice it up.


Val April 9, 2014 at 21:42

There are tons of them in So CA, San Diego county, also in shrubs. People think I am crazy when I eat them, they are delicious. Finally I can tell them what it is!! Looking for a long time for the name. Also, there are a lot of Natal plums for decorative purposes, I learned you can eat them, they are yummy. Don’t confuse with Oleandro thou – those are bitter, don’t have double thorns and very poisonous.


amari May 21, 2014 at 12:46

oh my god you are sooo right! I was really confused when this website said that the berries don’t do have a particularly “good” taste; every time I’ve had the berries they taste absolutely amazing! If a strawberry, an orange, and a mango had a threesome and the outcome were a sweet baby… THIS berry would be that baby. Its happiness on your tongue! They’re all over UC San Diego campus, which is where i tried them.


Green Deane May 21, 2014 at 12:55

Taste can be quite subjective and varies a lot from person to person.


Nina Larisch-Haider April 9, 2014 at 04:27

Hi, I live in New Zealand and my neighbor has a big strawberry tree.
I wondered about the fruits, which are starting to get red.

I am so happy to found out, that I can eat the fruits …. and even make a jam. Thanks for your information. I will pass it to others.


Deirdre March 20, 2015 at 17:31

I live in NZ and have been planting native trees for a forest regeneration project, and wondered about my neighbours beautiful tree. Now I know I can happily enjoy the leaves and fruit as they dangle over my back fence. Thanks



Abbie March 25, 2014 at 16:18

Thank you Green Deane for sharing your knowledge. There are publications from Croatia, Portugal, Italy, Turkey, Morocco, and Chicago that find the antioxidant level of to be very high in the fruits and leaves. There is plenty of folklore and scientific data showing profound antidiabetic, antihyperintensive, and antimicrobial properties. The leaves have more flavonoids compared to the fruits. I was wondering if anyone here consumes Arbutus unedo strictly for its health benefits? Also, this plant is closely related to Erica multiflora which is known for promoting hair growth in the form of an herbal extract. I wish I could grow this wonderful plant in my zone 5 location and may give it a try anyway.


Karen January 28, 2014 at 23:15

Could Arbutus unedo or any of the other varieties grow in eastern Nebraska?


Green Deane January 29, 2014 at 17:09

It is hardy to zone 7.


Nibornm November 24, 2013 at 15:11

I found your website in order to provide answers to my parents about my habit of enjoying the fruit of the Arbutus tree. I wanted to compliment you on the really excellent webpage containing a blend of instructional information and artistic beauty (the poem). Thank you for your efforts.

I thought my Arbutus was a Marina, so I will have to research if such a tree also carries the strawberry-like fruit.

Happy Thanksgiving 2013


sue kahler May 2, 2013 at 19:34

How fast do they grow?

We need shade FAST on the west side of our house in Lincoln, CA (5 miles north of Sacrament and V rocky). I don’t have too many years left….


John May 6, 2014 at 19:51

Strawberry tree is slow growing. For fast growth in your climate try Chitalpa Tashkentensis, White Cloud. Very fast growing hybrid of the Desert willow and Catalpa trees. Has many flowers all summer to boot. Mine gives light shade rather than dense shade.


Green Deane May 6, 2014 at 20:13

The Strawberry Tree produces edible fruit. That is why it is on this site. As far as I known the Chitalpa tashkentensis does not produce anything edible.


thad March 21, 2013 at 14:27

do the leaves make a good tea?they plant them all over for the pretty berries that come out around christmas time and the pretty bark, should be called the christmas tree because of when the berries come out…i tell people about your website all the time and your system for making sure they have the right plant…they all get happy


Green Deane March 24, 2013 at 18:55

As far as I know only the berries are usable.


Mary September 4, 2015 at 21:44

Hey Thad,

Yes, you can make tea from Arbutus mensiesii bark.

I live on Vancouver Island, and have most of my life. The First Nations of our island commonly used the bark to make tea to treat stomach ailments and to reduce anxiety. As a Park Naturalist, I served this tea to curious park vistors with no ill effect. In fact, I am going to make a cup right now! Just went outside to harvest some bark.

enjoy your tea!


thad March 21, 2013 at 14:12

they are planted as landscape trees all over sacramento,ca. and people are amazed they are edible like I was when I found this page,been looking for the plants name for a year,i should have known it would have been on your web site green dean you are very good at what you do, you help a lot of people by showing them the greatest gift of all should be put up for a noble peace prize…thank you for all you do,god bless


Kathryn February 19, 2014 at 23:58

Where in sacramento do you see them often? I’d like to see one up close!


Bryan August 14, 2014 at 10:41

These trees line the southwest corner of SMUDs campus along S street…some are rather big specimens. They are also all throughout Elk Grove, but particularly along the median of Franklin Blvd. between Mack and Bighorn. A relatively small tree, they are used at the ends of the medians near turnouts.


Andrew October 24, 2014 at 19:09

I’m in the Sacramento area and just happened on this website when looking for a use for these fruit after learning about them in a botany class. I live in Folsom, and they can be seen all over here. There are several of these trees on the Folsom Lake College campus as well as in the parking lot for the medical offices across the street from the school.


Kim February 14, 2015 at 10:12

The city of Sacramento just planted one in the side walk strip by my house… I was so happy, and had been thinking of planting one there myself! I noticed its not the only one in my neighborhood… do they need another tree for pollination? I have enjoyed your book for years…. Thanks…


Miguel May 7, 2015 at 23:22

These trees are planted in the city of Goleta and
i always wondered whether or not these fruits are poisonous or not. I will now try the fruit next time I go over there!


ali December 1, 2012 at 02:52

love the article


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