By Paula Urtecho
I volunteer with an organization called Richmond Trees. The other day as I was planting trees in neighborhoods around Richmond, I drove past several Arbutus ‘Marina’, commonly known as Strawberry Tree, that I had planted in a sidewalk strip some years prior. They had grown exponentially since I’d last seen them, with sturdy bright red trunks and resplendent foliage and flowers. My heart did somersaults when I saw those trees!
I remember the first time I laid eyes on a specimen of Arbutus ‘Marina’ in San Francisco. I was immediately smitten! At first glance I thought it was our native Pacific Madrone, Arbutus menziesii, but upon closer inspection, I realized I was looking at something related but totally different. The bark was redder, the flowers were a pretty rosy pink and hung in generous cascades and the fruit was much larger than our Pacific Madrone – bright red, fleshy and bumpy, reminiscent of a strawberry indeed! A very lovely tree.
When I got home I immediately started looking into this tree and soon became acquainted with Arbutus ‘Marina’ and the cultivar’s fascinating history. I had to have one of my own! At the time, my partner and I lived at a home with a postage stamp-sized yard, but nevermind that – I went to a local nursery and found an Arbutus ‘Marina’ in a 24” box and brought her home. Naturally, she was christened “Marina” and I decided that there was not enough room for her in any of the small beds in the yard, so I planted her in the largest oak wine barrel container that I could find. Marina, (yes, we referred to her by her proper name), was the centerpiece of our tiny yard. We literally entertained and gardened around Marina since she took up so much space, but we loved that pretty little tree so much that we hardly noticed the inconvenience. Eventually we moved and sadly, Marina had to stay behind…sigh. The current homeowner has planted her in a cozy corner of the yard. I’m told she’s doing well and I believe that must be true.
Arbutus ‘Marina’ is a very resilient species. This medium-sized tree (40-50’ H x 40’ W) has proven to be extremely well-adapted to our bay area climate and is widely planted as a street tree in our area, and with good reason. This beautiful tree can handle most soil types, has a low potential for root damage, has strong branch strength and is drought tolerant. Consider this tough and truly beautiful tree for the sidewalk strip in front of your home or as an eye-catching specimen in your garden.