›› Jan Firstbrook

With unique bark, berries and leaves, what tree lives only on the Pacific west coast?

Have you seen a twisted, crooked tree with reddish peeling bark and dark green glossy evergreen leaves?  Under the red bark, there is soft, green skin. Clusters of fragrant white blossoms turn into round orange berries in the fall. It is an Arbutus menziesii, or a Pacific madrone (in the United States) and is often found on rocky outcrops, near the ocean. On Mount Doug and Mount Work, there are groves of arbutus and along Arbutus Drive splashes of green and terra cotta are seen. The berries are eaten by birds and the bark has been used to tan hides, however, the wood tends to crack when drying and is not used for building. It is the only native broadleaf evergreen tree in Canada. Unfortunately, these trees do not transplant well and are not used in landscaping.

This tree is protected if it is over 50 cm in height, however, no tree in Victoria is protected if it is located within a building site. It is essential to protect these native trees and ensure that buildings are designed to allow the tree to thrive. These trees are at risk of dying, and you may have noticed some trees with gray bark. The trees are stressed due to drought, climate change and disturbance, which means they are having difficulty fighting off the fungal leaf blight. If you do have an arbutus tree at your place, watering will help the tree fight off disease.

Are there Arbutus in Fernwood? One healthy specimen (seen in the photo ) is found near the corner of Camosun and Balmoral Rd. outside of Glenwarren Lodge. Another healthy tree is located at the Oak Bay Monterey Centre parking lot. 

Let us find these amazing native trees in our neighbourhoods and protect them from drought and development if we are able.