Strawberry tree - Arbutus

Strawberry tree - Arbutus

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An evergreen tree or shrub originating in Ireland and in countries bordering the Mediterranean, which can reach 9-10 meters in height, but which more commonly remains around 4-5 meters in size. It has gray-brown bark, which is peeled; the leaves are oblong-lanceolate, toothed, dark green and shiny, similar to those of the oleander. At the end of summer it produces innumerable small white flowers, in some varieties suffused with red or green, in the shape of a bell; in the same period the fruits ripen, which therefore take almost a whole year to mature, the particularity of the arbutus consists in the fact that on the same plant you can find ripe fruits and flowers at the same time. The fruits are roundish, yellow-red, sweet, with slightly rough bark, when ripe they tend to fall from the tree.
The botanical name of the arbutus and Arbutus unedo L. It is a small evergreen tree that reaches a maximum height of ten meters. Some varieties are even smaller. The plant, belonging to the Ericaceae family, is native to the Mediterranean basin, Ireland, Asia and the Americas. The bark of the tree is reddish and tends to darken with advancing age.

THE CORBEZZOLO IN BRIEFFamily, genus and species Ericaceae, gen. Arbustus with about 12 speciesdimensions In cultivation up to 5 meters; dwarf cultivars even only 2 metersCommon names Strawberry tree, albaster, sea cherry,Origins Basin of the Mediterranean, Mexico and South of the U.S.A.Type of plant Medium-sized tree, it can be grown as a shrubFlowers In bunches, white or pinkleaves Shiny, dark green, persistentRusticitа Medium rustic (there are very resistant cultivars); fears cold winds;Exposure Sun; even partial shade and shade (in the South and on the coasts)Ground Preferably neutral or subacid, possibly siliceous or volcanic. Excellent drainageIrrigation Autonomous after the first yearPurposes Garden ornament, hedge, large vasewatering

It does not need large amounts of water, it certainly prefers drought to excess watering; it is usually watered only in particularly dry years. It is advisable to bury a good organic fertilizer at the foot of the plant in spring, to favor its optimal development.
It is a tree with very limited needs. Once established it will be almost autonomous. Our contribution can be useful during the first vintage by engaging, in the absence of rain, in frequent watering. They will be gradually reduced because the root system reaches the maximum depth that characterizes it.
In the North, exclusively in the early years, it may be useful to protect the foliage with special fabric.

Plant characteristics

The strawberry tree is a medium-sized tree: in its spontaneous state it can even reach 15 meters in height while in cultivation it rarely exceeds 5 meters. The root system is particularly developed: it can even reach a depth of 15 meters. This makes it resistant to flames and drought, but also very difficult to eradicate or transplant elsewhere. Its bearing is expanded and is characterized by the presence of multiple trunks with an extremely ornamental appearance.
Their course is curvilinear and tortuous and the bark is very particular: very scaly and fibrous with shades ranging from gray to orange. The foliage is very dense and made attractive by the large mass of glossy leaves, dark green and lighter back. Its appearance is further enhanced by the coloring of the young secondary branches: a reddish that creates an attractive contrast with leaves and main trunks.
The flowers, pink or white, are produced in autumn (usually from mid-September onwards): they are bell-shaped (similar to those of heather) and are harvested in beautiful hanging bunches, perfumed and particularly appreciated by pollinating insects.
The particularity of this tree is however linked to the fact that the adult specimens, in autumn, manage to bloom and at the same time bring the fruits produced in the vintage to maturity. They are similar in shape and size to cherries, but covered with a hard skin and equipped with numerous tips. They are edible and are used above all for the production of juices and jams.



October-November (South and coasts); April (North)
Flowering October to January
Collection October December
Pruning August September

Land, temperature and exposure

The strawberry tree prefers poor, rocky, certainly well-drained soils. In the garden it is advisable to favor drainage by placing coarse material at the bottom of the hole where we want to bury the plant, for this purpose we can use perlite or pumice stone, possibly not too fine.
The ideal soil for the arbutus must be deep, well drained and possibly acidic, with acid reaction. In Italy the preferred areas are coastal or volcanic areas. However, it can also be grown in calcareous soils as long as they are not clayey and compact: its root system, in fact, particularly fears water stagnation and, once franked, much prefers drought to excessive humidity.
For the cultivation in large pots we choose a compote for citrus fruits, to which we can add, to lighten it, a bit of pozzolana or pumice stone.
To promote drainage, it is advisable to insert pumice or coarse perlite in the ground. The ideal temperature for this plant is mild, warm and typically Mediterranean. The young strawberry tree fears cold and freezing winds. Arbutus unedo also loves sunny exposures but can withstand even semi-shaded ones as long as there are no low or freezing temperatures and cold, dry winds.
The young plant, in particular, fears very cold temperatures and cold winds, for this reason, in the first two years of planting it should be grown in a greenhouse. No problem, instead, if the plant is exposed to damp winds coming from the sea.


At the end of winter we can sow the seeds of arbutus in a mixture of peat and sand in equal parts, which must be kept moist, in a luminous and protected place, until spring, when the new seedlings begin to grow. The little ones arbutus they are quite delicate, so it is advisable to avoid exposing them to full sun or strong winds. Before planting new plants it is advisable to keep them in a greenhouse for at least two years. The multiplication can also take place by cuttings, to be practiced in winter, also in this case the rooted cuttings, usually about 30% of the buried cuttings, must be kept in a protected place for 1-2 years before being planted.

Parasites and diseases of the strawberry tree

This plant does not fear pests or diseases, although sometimes black aphids can cause some damage.
The strawberry tree tends to get sick more frequently in areas where the climate is not exactly the ideal one, such as areas with a continental climate, such as the cities of Northern Italy. More than the climate is however the wrong exposure that does more damage to the plant.
When the arbutus is planted in areas with little light it suffers, as it is already said a heliophilous plant (which loves the sun) and from the Mediterranean climate.
In the strawberry trees planted in areas of the garden with little light, the attacks of aphids and the consequent fumaggini, black mushrooms that cover the leaves on which falls the honeydew produced by the aphids, are more frequent.
The strawberry trees planted in the wrong positions are even more difficult to bear fruit than the other arbutus but above all they grow more in height because as a reaction in the shade, they try to push themselves upwards towards the light.

Leaves, flowers and fruits

The arbutus unedo, that is the arbutus, has oval leaves, with toothed margins and an intense green color. The flowers are formed by about twenty groups of specimens composed of a closed corolla in whose apical part only the upper tips of the petals emerge. This inflorescence, called "urceolata", is typical of many plants belonging to the ericaceae. In the strawberry tree, the flower corolla shows only five tips called "teeth".
In this plant, the flowers have a color ranging from white to pink. The inflorescences are hermaphrodite, that is to say, they contain both male (stamens) and female (ovary) organs. The abusus unedo flowers from September to March. The fruits are round berries with a globular surface and dark pulp containing seeds. The color of these berries is first green, then yellow and finally reddish or orange. The fruits, which form the previous year, ripen from September to March and precisely during the development of the flowers. In the strawberry tree, in fact, flowers and fruits appear at the same time.

Fertilizer and irrigation

Arbutus unedo should be fertilized with complex NPK fertilizers, ie nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium based fertilizers or organic fertilizers to be planted at the foot of the plant. Fertilization prepares the plant to withstand the rigors of winter. As for watering, the strawberry tree does not need too much water. In hot weather it is necessary to intervene every ten or fifteen days. Irrigation should be suspended in case of rainy season.

Repotting and pruning

The arbutus unedo or corbezzolo must be repotted in spring in the same soil used for the first planting. After three or four years, the plant is buried in the open field. This new plantation serves to strengthen the root system. The strawberry tree does not need pruning. The only interventions concern the elimination of dry and damaged parts and out of place branches.
Arbutus is extremely tolerant of pruning: it can therefore be left to grow with its natural habit, but also systematically cut to create beautiful border hedges.
It can be useful to eliminate the branches at the base to highlight the beautiful color of the bark and the knotty shape of the trunks. Sapling growth is also an excellent alternative, choosing, even at a young age, a single central stem, the most straight, to be preserved, eliminating the others.

Propagation and diseases

The strawberry tree propagates by seed and by cuttings. The seeds are buried in spring, in a mixture of sand and peat in equal parts, while the semi-woody cuttings are taken in summer. Woody cuttings, on the other hand, can also be propagated in winter. The seedlings born from the remains of the mother plant must be kept indoors or in a greenhouse for the first two years. Afterwards, they can normally be put to stay.
The strawberry tree is a plant very resistant to diseases. In some cases there may be attacks of black aphids or other adversities caused by unsuitable soil and excess humidity. An excessively acid soil can cause iron chlorosis, while a poorly drained and moist soil can give rise to root rot.
The propagation of the strawberry tree can be done either by seed (which requires winter stratification in order to germinate), or by layering. The latter is carried out at the beginning of the summer on branches of about 2 cm in diameter. For the emission of the roots it may be necessary to wait two years.

Property and meaning

The strawberry tree has beneficial medicinal properties. It is in fact an antiseptic, astringent and diuretic plant. Furthermore, the fruits are very rich in sugars and vitamin C. They should therefore be avoided in the case of diabetes. In the language of plants and flowers the strawberry tree represents esteem. Its botanical name, arbutus unedo, was attributed by Pliny the Elder, who used this term in reference to the lack of taste of the fruits. In fact, the name means "I only eat one". The poet Virgil, in the Aeneid, tells that the relatives of the dead used to put arbutus branches on the graves.

Classification and origins

The genus Arbutus is rather broad: in fact about 12 species belong to it. The most widespread in our country (Arbutus unedo, Arbutus andrachne and Arbutus x andrachnoides) are native to the Mediterranean basin, in particular in the eastern areas such as Greece, the coasts of Turkey and the Black Sea. In Italy they are now naturalized (they were already certainly present in the territory at the time of the Romans), but they are equally widespread in the coastal areas of Spain, France and southern Ireland (also thanks to the work of birds, greedy for its fruits and which contribute to distributing its seeds)
It has a marked predilection for siliceous soils and is increasingly used to repopulate areas affected by fires, in combination with cork oak and holm oak: it is in fact extremely resistant to heat and can quickly push back from the roots because they grow at large depth.
The remaining species are instead a more recent discovery and are endemic to the warm-temperate zones of the American continent (especially northern). Among these the most widespread at horticultural level is undoubtedly the Arbutus menziesii.


The plant is preferably done in autumn, in regions with a warm climate; in the North it is instead advisable to proceed at the end of spring to give the plant time to free itself before the arrival of low temperatures. We always choose small plants to prevent the root system (from rapid development) from being irreparably damaged by the operation. Let us also remember to dig a deep hole, work the soil well and make the walls well penetratable, breaking them several times with a pitchfork.

Strawberry tree - Arbutus: Harvest and use of fruits

The fruits must be picked when they reach a very intense red color and to the touch they begin to be yielding. We carefully monitor our plant and act as soon as possible: in fact, they are very appetite for birds and we risk seeing ourselves steal a large part of our harvest! We must also work carefully so as not to ruin the bunches of flowers that will bear fruit next year!
They can be used in many ways: without cooking you can make a puree to be seasoned with sugar and lemon and eat by the spoon.
Otherwise excellent and special jams can be made: usually half the weight of the fruits (cleaned and washed) in sugar and half lemon juice is sufficient. We cook until the consistency is ideal: put the very hot compost into jars, after having sterilized both the jars and the caps. Turn the jars upside down so that the vacuum forms.
Watch the video
  • Strawberry tree tree

    The Corbezzolo, common name of Arbutus Unedo, is native to the Mediterranean region, but also to the Canary Islands and the Ame

    visit: arbutus tree


Arbutus Unedo

Up to 5 m high and 4 wide

Bianchi, from September to January

Orange, then red, 2 cm in diameter

It needs at least 8 years to bear fruit. Very rustic, if sheltered from the winds

Arbutus Unedo 'Compacta'

Up to 3 meters in height and width

Bianchi, from September to January

Orange, then red, 2 cm in diameter

It flowers and bears fruit from the early years.

Arbutus Unedo 'Rubra'

Up to 2 meters in all directions

Rosa, from September to January.


Very rustic and drought resistant

Arbutus Unedo 'Atlantic'

Up to 2 meters in all directions

Bianchi, from September to January

Reds, up to 4 cm in diameter

It also grows well in pots

Arbutus Unedo "Elfin King"

Nanissimo, at most 1.5 meters

Bianchi, from September to January

Red, medium-sized

Suitable for pot and low hedges

Arbutus andrachne

Up to 12 m in height

Bianchi a mazzetti, at the beginning of spring

In autumn, dark red, about 1.5 cm in diameter

Beautiful shiny leaves with a smooth edge. Reddish old bark that flakes off, new green bark. Very rustic and very resistant to drought

Arbutus x andrachnoides

Up to 9 meters high

Bianchi, in November


Reddish, very rustic bark. Hybrid.

Arbutus menziesii

In cultivation up to 10 meters

Whites collected in large bunches in mid-spring

Small, smooth, bright red fruits

Notched leaves with very clear back. Very ornamental orange bark. Withstands up to -10 ° C, suitable for wet areas