The Pacific Madrone is an easily recognized tree, a veritable barrage of color and interest year round. A broadleaf evergreen, the madrone (aka madroño, madroña, and bearberry) gets its name from the Spanish for its resemblance to the Mediterranean strawberry tree. Madrones have thin, peeling, red bark, revealing a bright green-to-chartreuse layer beneath. In late spring the tree is a mass of fragrant flowers attracting pollinators, and in the late autumn its red-orange fruit is a much-loved food source to birds. The fruit was also popular with tribes living along the Pacific coast, who ate the berries raw, dried, and soaked. The leaves of the madrone were used for medicinal purposes, including treatment of stomach aches and skin sores. The wood of the madrone is quite dense, making a fine fuel.
Madrones are shade intolerant and do well on rocky, poor soil, and even tolerate salty water, growing for example quite close the high tide line along the Puget Sound. Among the coastal redwoods, madrones grow straight; however around here you are more likely to see, as Edward Jensen describes in Trees to Know in Oregon, a tree that “leans and twists as if seeking a better view of the world.” While seemingly hearty, the trees have been declining in our urban areas where they suffer from exposure to irrigation, yard chemicals, and the impacts of construction. A single madrone graces the Heritage Tree list, #43, which can be found at the end ofWygant St. inNorth Portland – leaning out for a better view.