HARDWOOD AND WINTER LEAVES

by Kristopher Clark, Summer 2020
Photo by Kris Clark
Photo by Kris Clark

HARDWOOD AND WINTER LEAVES

by Kristopher Clark, Summer 2020

Walking through a Pacific Northwest forest is unlike any other walk in the nation. Trees of all kinds drape their enormous arms, ferns blanket the ground, and moss engulfs sharp boulders tearing through the soil. You must slow your pace to take it all in, or you may miss some of our forest’s amazing features.

Among the many species of trees is Washington State’s only broad-leaved evergreen tree, the Pacific madrone or Arbutus menziesii. With a distribution ranging from British Columbia all the way down to San Diego, it has picked up several different names including madrona, madroño, madroña, and bearberry. Occasionally it is even called the “strawberry tree” due to its resemblance to the Mediterranean strawberry tree. However, it is important to note that it has no actual relationship to the strawberry fruit.

Among the many species of trees is Washington State’s only broad-leaved evergreen tree, the Pacific madrone or Arbutus menziesii. With a distribution ranging from British Columbia all the way down to San Diego, it has picked up several different names including madrona, madroño, madroña, and bearberry. Occasionally it is even called the “strawberry tree” due to its resemblance to the Mediterranean strawberry tree. However, it is important to note that it has no actual relationship to the strawberry fruit.

There is another article on the Pacific Madrone in this issue of Salish Magazine.

The madrona tree stands out from other trees in the area. It sheds its vibrant orange-red outer layers of bark the way a snake sheds its old skin. Beneath this shed “skin” lies a smooth greenish-grey sapwood. The madrona typically grows to heights of 33 to 98 feet and has a thickness at its base of five to eight feet when fully grown. Madronas have hard, sturdy wood and are resilient to many stressors.

Photo by John F. Williams
Photo by John F. Williams

Expanding the reach of the tree, the madrona’s leaf is waxy to the touch and has a greenish shine to it. During the colder months, the leaves may turn a brownish black due to a variety of fungi that infect them. Fortunately, rarely do these fungi cause actual damage to the tree itself. The leaves of the madrona trees range from two to six inches and can remain attached to the tree for multiple years before falling to the ground. This is not a common trait of a broad-leaved tree, making the madrona particularly interesting.

Here at Salish Magazine, we have fielded questions from readers about why these beautiful leaves stay attached during the fall. To the surprise of some, the tree does shed its leaves, just not all at one time in fall like other broad-leaved trees. A madrona tree will lose its older leaves around June because the growth energy is given to its flowering buds and new leaves in late spring. As a result of having leaves year-round, the madrona is more sun and drought resistant as the tree’s continued leaf protection shades its skin from overly powerful rays and assists in collecting and storing water. This is extremely important as younger madrona trees require some shading, while older madronas need large amounts of direct light. This is one reason you may notice older madronas reaching out at odd angles, searching for more direct light.

Upper: Older leaves and flowers; Lower: new leaves. Photos by John F. Williams
Photo by Kris Clark

With a recent downturn in the population of the madrona, some of our readers are doing what they can to help bring the population back by growing their own trees. As a result, another common question we have heard is, “What does it take to successfully grow a madrona tree?” To that, we answer: some very specific soil traits, moderate sunlight, and minimal water. While the tree is sturdy and maintains itself once established, it does require certain “ingredients” for it to thrive.

One of the most important ingredients is the right soil. One of the main requirements for the soil is that it does not retain too much water. This may seem odd as you typically find the madrona overhanging a cliff looking out over water, but the truth is, the heavy runoff in areas like this prevent the water from saturating the soil. This aspect is important because the madrona tree is susceptible to root rot when exposed to water for long periods of time. Furthermore, sitting water negatively impacts another important factor to successful growth of the madrona, its symbiotic soil fungi, mycorrhizae.

Photo by John F. Williams

If you have recently planted a madrona tree without successful growth but know you have the right sunlight, proper water conditions, and a good substrate, it may be due to missing the madrona’s very important partner. As previous Salish articles have highlighted, many trees in the PNW require special fungi known as mycorrhizae to thrive.

You can learn more about mycorrhizae, mushrooms, and their relationships with trees in Issue #5 of Salish Magazine.

For the madrona tree, this special fungus is ericoid mycorrhiza. Unfortunately to those trying to grow madronas, the ericoid is one of the pickiest mycorrhizae. But don’t stress just yet, propagation of ericoid mycorrhizae isn’t difficult and can be done by your average gardener. The first step is to find an existing madrone tree. Then dig up some of the surrounding soil, paying close attention not to damage any wildlife! Lastly take this transplanted soil and mix it with the soil around your own madrone. After that, sit back and let nature do its thing!

Photo by Kris Clark
Photo by Gerald Young

The madrona tree is one of a kind, and we are lucky to have its beauty year-round. In the spring, you can see beautiful white bell-like flowers popping out from the ends of the branches and in fall, ominous dark orange-red berries—which are actually edible! The shedding orangish skin provides unique color and the sturdy leaves make it a great home for many birds. While requiring specific “ingredients” to thrive, given the chance, this beauty will provide stabilization to soils and interesting views all year long.

Captain Kris Clark is a graduate student attending Oregon State University to obtain a Masters in Fish and Wildlife Administration. He founded and runs a 501(c)(3) nonprofit by the name of Oceans Blue Corp. It focuses on keeping the oceans blue through education, prevention, and active removal of toxins from the marine environment. When not fighting to protect the planet, he is outdoors trying to bring the beauty to your front door through photography and video. A constant student and steward of nature, he uses the outdoors to fuel his passion. Hiking a mile high or diving 60 feet below the water’s surface, he is always looking for adventure in the Salish Sea.

Table of Contents, Issue #8, Summer 2020

Bigleaf Maple

Bigleaf Maple

Content by John F. Williams except where noted Summer 2020Content by John F. Williams except where noted Summer 2020That's a pretty big leaf!Click on a small photo above to expand the gallery that shows that these big leaves have humble beginnings. These photos were...

Poetry-8

Poetry-8

Poetry Summer 2020Photo by Sue HylenOde to Madrona Fort Worden State Park, Port Townsend, WA 2019 by Nancy Taylor You stand alone with eight straight trunkseach in the cross-hairs of the sun,as though those parts signed a non-compete clause. You rise proud, king of...

Red Alder

Red Alder

by Thomas & Sara Noland Summer 2020 Photos by Thomas Noland except as notedSpring sunlight illuminates the new leaves of a red alder. The leaves have deep veins and scalloped edges.Spring sunlight illuminates the new leaves of a red alder. The leaves have deep...

Factories Underfoot

Factories Underfoot

by Adelia Ritchie, Summer 2020Photo by John F. WilliamsPhoto by John F. Williamsby Adelia Ritchie, Summer 2020  What do we mean when we say that some plants are “nitrogen fixers”? No, it doesn’t mean that they are repairing nitrogen! Let’s take a moment to get a grip...

In the Company of Alders

In the Company of Alders

by Phoebe Goit Summer 2020Photo by John F. WilliamsPhoto by John F. Williamsby Phoebe Goit, Summer 2020[Some of the more technical terms in this article are indicated by orange text. If you hover your cursor over the [su_tooltip position="north" size="1"...

The Pacific Madrone

The Pacific Madrone

— WHERE AND WHY by Gerald Young, Summer 2020 Photos by Gerald Young except as notedThe Pacific madrone is commonly seen on bluffs. Photo by John F. Williams The Pacific madrone is commonly seen on bluffs. Photo by John F. Williams — WHERE AND WHY by Gerald Young,...

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FIND OUT MORE

USDA(ND). “Fire Effects Information System: Arbutus menziesii” Retrieved from https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/arbmen/all.html

Straker, Colin (1 July 1996). “Ericoid mycorrhiza: Ecological and host specificity” Mycorrhiza. 6(4), PP215-225

McMahan, Linda (January 2006). “Native Madrona are Special to the Northwest” Retrieved from https://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/native-madrones-are-special-northwest

Engelson, Andrew (Nd). “Nature on the Trails: Madrona” Retrieved from https://www.wta.org/hiking-info/nature-on-trail/nature-on-trail-madronas