Two weeks ago we had a fierce windstorm here on Bainbridge and my greenhouse went airborne. It’s not supposed to be upside-down, or inside my vegetable garden, but it jumped the fence.
The madrona, or Arbutus menziesii, is the only deciduous evergreen in the Pacific Northwest. Its smooth supple limbs are evocative of the human body, and its paper-like reddish-brown bark peels away every year. It also grows in Ireland, where it is called arbutus. The legend has it that an Irish king wanted his daughter, Arbutus, to marry the King of Spain, but she refused, saying she loved another. He ordered her to strip off her “berry brown” robe so that he and his chiefs could examine her to determine her virginity. She let the gown fall, but when it hit the ground, she died of shame, and she turned into the arbutus tree, and continues to shed her bark annually.
The red berries of the madrona are edible, though bland, and bears and birds love them, especially when they ripen and ferment on the tree. They are also said to have a narcotic effect. In Portugal, the berries are distilled into a potent brandy called Medronho. In my front yard here on Bainbridge I have a huge madrona and every year in late fall the birds hit it like it was Mardi Gras. They do fly a little funny when they leave.
Here’s my madrona: