Sunday, December 6, 2009

Inedible Strawberries

If you're looking for a native evergreen shrub for a wildlife garden that delivers a splash of colour in mid-winter, just when we need it most, then look no further than the strawberry tree Arbutus unedo. Strictly speaking it's only native to a few counties in the south and west of Ireland but, given a bit of shelter, it can be grown in gardens throughout most of Britain as a small tree or informal evergreen flowering hedge.

The great merit of this plant is that it flowers and fruits simultaneously. The clusters of waxy bells in bloom now presumably self-pollinate, since there are few insects about to do the job, then the fruits take a whole year to develop, swelling into bright red spheres around Christmas time. Apparently the fruits are fairly unpleasant to eat (supposedly, unedo is a corruption of Pliny the Elder's description of his experience of eating the fruit - unum edo, meaning 'I eat one'), although I've never plucked up the courage to perform my own taste-test. Interestingly, it seems that grey squirrels don't much like them either. This afternoon I watched them eating yew seeds (which are poisonous to most mammals, including us) and discarding the red pulp around the seeds (which isn't poisonous) but none of them touched the tempting-looking scarlet crop on the strawberry trees next to the yews. They all scampered off from the yews when I arrived so I guess they might be lying dead now from yew poisoning, but I doubt it; grey squirrel digestive systems seem to be able to cope with just about anything, except perhaps the fruit of the strawberry tree... but I'll keep a watch on them, just in case they turn to eating these too when the going gets tougher later in the winter.


  1. Never heard of this before Phil, but the fruits look stunning. They'd really brighten the garden this time of year.

  2. This was part of a hedge formed by the shrub, Keith, and it really brightens up a dull day


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