Many claim that the arbutus is their favorite tree. These trees are fussy but sturdy and unusual and instantly recognizable. They grow best in Canada’s Gulf Islands. At our wonderful Salt Spring Island accommodation, the Spindrift Oceanfront Cottages at Welbury Point, arbutus trees grew well along the path to a rocky point with 2 sand beaches. Ruth & I took this path more than once to see them. We also saw them on a similar point near the Pender Island Museum and in other places. They are fussy because they do not like moisture in a place known for frequent rain, British Columbia. However, the Gulf Islands have a somewhat Mediterranean climate.
Arbutus trees do grow in the United States, but they are known there as Madrone or Madrona trees. These fiercely rugged hardwood trees can live 500 years and grow to be 100 feet tall. Their growing area is quite small both in south Canada and northern California because of their nature. Because they do not like shade, they twist to find the sun and love being by the ocean. They are only found within 5 miles or 8 kilometers of an ocean on rocky bluffs with Garry oaks and Douglas firs nearby. Their entire habitat is only a couple of hundred miles long.
The only broadleaf evergreen in Canada, arbutus trees do produce urn-shaped flowers in April or May that have a strong honey scent attracting bees, and their berries are eaten by robins. The explorer who named them, Archibald Menzies, described them as ornamental strawberry trees. Their fruit is berry-like and bright red-orange. Arbutus bark is used for tanning hides. Their trunks are always crooked but they do have upright branches. Their leaves are dark and glossy with a pale underneath. Their bark peels off in flakes.
Arbutus trees are well-loved.