The arbutus tree (Arbutus andrachne) is also called the eastern strawberry tree or Greek strawberry tree. It is a native of southeast Europe, with its range stretching into Turkey and Lebanon. It's been used for thousands of years as timber for buildings, but more recently it is used as a decorative shrub or tree for Israeli gardens.
Leaves and Flowers
The arbutus tree is evergreen, with dark-green, alternate and entire leaves. It flowers in March and April, and its fruit ripens in the fall. The creamy white flowers, shaped like bells atop erect stems, have both male and female organs. While the plant is self-fertile, it still requires bees for pollination.
Fruit and Bark
The bright-red fruits range from 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. From a distance, they do look like small strawberries. Some people consider the fruit edible, but the skin is dry and gritty, and the flesh is pulpy. Arbutus trees, which can grow 35 feet tall, have flaking red bark that covers a cinnamon-brown interior.
Seeds can be sown in a cold frame as soon as they ripen. If the seeds have been stored, they should be soaked for 5 days in warm water before sowing. A 6-week cold stratification is ideal. It may take the seeds up to 3 months to germinate. Seedlings should be grown in a greenhouse during the first winter, then planted in late spring after the final frost. If you prefer to propagate with cuttings, use mature wood from the current season's growth. Plant cuttings in a cold frame in November.
Arbutus prefers light, sandy or loamy soil that is well drained. It's not fussy about the pH and can grow in almost any range. The tree requires full sun, and it is drought tolerant.
While arbutus today is grown as a large shrub or small tree, archaeological evidence shows that it used to grow much larger and was used for building timber, according to Flowers in Israel. The "Sunken Room" in Sidon, Lebanon, has beams that experts say were grown approximately 1390-1120 B.C.E.