Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Madrone Tree

This is a Madrone Tree, one of the prettiest trees around because of its reddish bark that peels to reveal a light green layer underneath. This photo was taken in the summer, so it was not flowering, but in spring the red and green bark make a beautiful background to white flowers and red berries. Madrone comes from the Spanish word for strawberry. You can imagine that a tree covered with what looks like strawberries would be beautiful.

Here is a close-up of the red and green bark, with an ant coming for a visit.

I took these photos during a kayak trip off San Juan Island in Washington State. We stopped for lunch in Deadman Bay near Lime Kiln State Park. We had started the trip in the morning from Smallpox Bay. Fortunately there was no bad karma on our trip from these two bays with sad histories.

Without getting too much into the gory details, Deadman Bay got its name because the bodies of illegal Chinese immigrants would wash up here after being thrown overboard by smugglers trying to escape US Customs agents. Smallpox Bay was named after the Native Americans who tried to treat their smallpox fevers by bathing in the cold waters of the bay. They contracted smallpox, which they had no immunity to, through contact with European settlers.

Although the Madrone Tree was of no help in treating smallpox, Native Americans did use its leaves and bark to treat a variety of other illnesses including stomach ailments, skin problems, sore throats and colds. They also ate its berries. A Native American legend explains that the reason Madrone Trees are often found on rocky coastlines like Deadmay Bay is that it is the Madrone's job to hold the earth together with its roots.

Today's less romantic explanation for why Madrones thrive on rocky coastlines is that they are broadleaf evergreens, in the same family as the Rhododendron. Their large leaves are active year-round, compensating for the poor soil conditions. Madrones are well suited for the relatively mild winters of San Juan Island. Evergreens in areas with colder winters generally have needles rather than broad leaves.

Here is a Madrone in bloom from Wikimedia:


  1. hey there... one of my favorite trees!! there are quite a few of them on the acreage here, and in b.c. they are held in high esteem ... by those who love them.. hated by those who hate the peeling messiness of them... in Canada they are known as Arbutus...unfortunately there is a nasty virus which has been attacking them in the past few years ...i've often thought that the peeling bark should have made a great paper...i have some slices of a branch which i intended to make into Rune 'stones' .. one day one day ;)

  2. I'm sorry to hear that they are being attacked by a virus. They are definitely beautiful. And the wood has a unique look and lots of burls, so it makes nice ornamental objects.

  3. What an interesting experience you had and a wonderful way of describing the Madrone Tree. Indeed, this tree can be a lovely choice for certain locations that can be considered when landscaping. Aside from its medicinal properties it also has a certain charm that is just appealing.

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