Arbutus (the Strawberry Tree)

The arbutus, or strawberry tree, is an evergreen ornamental which grows to about the same size as laburnam.

Its fruit have a remarkable appearance and flavour.

A brief internet search has revealed very little appreciation of its quality, perhaps because few people in England have the opportunity to taste really ripe fruit.

Like a mulberry, the fruit is not ready until it drops onto the ground. At this point it is soft and squidgy, bright red, and quite delicious.

If the fruit is tasted unripe, it is about the size of an alpine strawberry, hard, rather tasteless and woody, and appears almost inedible.

arbutus fruit

In a ripe fruit, the skin is covered in flavourless crimson granules which have a similar texture to poppy seeds. The skin is very thin, as can be seen from the picture above, where I've squished one of the fruits so you can see inside; it's too soft to cut. (click on the thumbnail for a better picture). The flesh is orange, luscious, and has a flavour closer to mango than nectarine, with a hint of strawberry and possibly orange. Typical fruit are an inch in diameter (about 2 cm).

I have only seen really good fruit in Surrey after a long warm summer, and on the Isle of Wight. Perhaps like sweet chestnuts, they require warmth to develop fully.

Nigel Deacon, Diversity website.

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