Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo L.) is native to the Mediterranean basin and the Atlantic coast to Ireland. It belongs to the Ericaceae family. It proves to be one of the Mediterranean species best suited to fires. In fact, on acidic soils the repeated fire favors the strawberry tree, capable of rapidly releasing new shoots from the ground after the passage of the fire, imposing itself on the other species. Evergreen tree 5-6 m high (sometimes up to 10 m), with often shrubby habit.
The trunk has a thin rind, finely and regularly peeled in long, narrow vertical plates of a reddish-brown color.
The persistent, alternate, leathery leaves, with a short petiole, have an obovate-elliptical lamina. The flowers are placed in branched racemes of creamy or pinkish white color, provided with a lanceolate corolla with 5 short teeth; the chalice has triangular teeth. It blooms from October to December and bears fruit in the following autumn. The fruit is a 1-2 cm globular berry, dark red when ripe, edible, with a surface covered with granulations; fleshy pulp with many seeds.
Strawberry tree fruits (photo www.unileon.es)
Varieties and rootstocks
It would probably be possible to select quality with more tasty fruits, as was done for the color of the flowers; in fact, there is a very doubtful variety with pink flowers and even more colorful fruits.
Strawberry tree flowers (website photo)
It is a plant that easily reproduces both by seed and by cutting. Reproduction by seed must be done towards the end of winter in a mixture of sand and peat. The soil should always be kept moist and the containers should be placed in sheltered and bright places.
The multiplication by cutting must be done in winter. The new strawberry tree seedlings should be transplanted to the ground after about two years.
Rare use in the fresh state.
The transformation involves: jams, jellies, syrups, juices, creams, sauces and candied fruit.
If fermented they give the wine of strawberry trees and distillates with digestive properties.
Active ingredients with astringent, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and antirheumatic properties are extracted from the fruits, leaves and flowers.
The bark contains tannins used industrially, for the production of dyes and for the tanning of skins.
Given the rapidity of growth, it is used in reforestation for environmental, protective and anti-erosion purposes. It is used in the floriculture sector for ornamental purposes. Since the flowers appear in autumn-early winter, when the fruits of the previous year are ripe, the ornamental value of the plant is greatly increased by this particularity.