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General: Heath family (Ericaceae). Pacific madrone is an evergreen tree that is native to the northwestern Coast Ranges of North America. The trees have single or multiple trunks with rounded, spreading crowns. Mature trees reach heights of 6m to 30m or more depending on environmental conditions. The alternately arranged leaves are oval, (7 to 15 cm long), thick, and have finely serrated margins. The leaf surfaces are glossy dark green above with lighter grayish green beneath. Leaves remain on the plant for two years before they are shed. The striking cinnamon red bark is thin and smooth. The bark on young branches peels in large papery flakes to reveal an attractive, satiny green surface beneath that darkens with time to deep red. In midsummer, the exfoliated bark, along with shed leaves in shades of red to orange, form a lovely colorful carpet beneath the tree canopy (Saunders 1923). Fragrant bell-shaped flowers appear in large, showy clusters at the ends of the branches during the spring, from March through May, but sometimes as early as January. The flowers (8mm) are yellowish-white to pink and consist of 5 fused petals. The fruits are loose clusters of bumpy, scarlet red berries (8 to 12mm) that contain a mealy pulp and about 20 hard seeds. The genus was named from the Celtic word “arboise,” which means rough fruit (Young & Young 1992). The early Spanish Californians named the tree “madroño” after the strawberry tree (Arbutus unido), which grows in Spain and other nearby Mediterranean countries (Parsons 1966). The edible fruits ripen from the early fall until December or January.
Distribution: Pacific madrone is native to the West Coast of North America and occurs from the Southern Coast Ranges of California to British Columbia in the north from 100 to 1500 m. Occasional populations are found in the Sierra Nevada Range at middle elevations. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
Habitat: Pacific madrone is found on wooded slopes and canyons in oak, redwood, and mixed evergreen forests as well as in chaparral communities. The trees are commonly associated with other species and rarely occur in pure stands.