Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
If you’re looking for unusual fruits to use in floral arrangements, consider those of the strawberry tree. These are also known as Killarney strawberry and madrona.
These are very unusual in various respects. First, they ripen at the same time the tree is blooming during the fall and winter months. Anyone living in warm climates could easily grow this plant for its attractive fruits.
In its native regions, the trees are found in parts of Ireland, southern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. The plants can eventually grow to about 20 feet in height with an equal spread. However, they are very slow growing. Outside their native region, these generally only reach about eight to 12 feet in height with an equal width.
The alternate, evergreen foliage resembles that of the laurel. The glossy leaves tend to be leathery. They have red veins. Like the fruits, the foliage is a good choice for floral designs. This can be used in much the same way we use laurel leaves.
A tender plant, this is best suited to USDA zones eight through ten. Though the plant might survive in cool areas, the leaves are affected by heavy frost.
Strawberry tree fruits ripen between September and March.
They have a remote resemblance to strawberry, which explains the common name. These fruits are noted for their warty, knobby, rough texture. Initially, these will be white. Over time as they ripen, they become yellow, and then orange, and finally reddish-orange. Around ¾ inch across, they vary in shape from round to globular.
Because the strawberry tree is self-fertile, you only need one plant to produce fruits. However, bees do visit the flowers.
The strawberry tree is easy to grow. Buy container plants if possible. This plant doesn’t transplant well.
Strawberry trees need no special fertilizers. Once the plants become established, they can tolerate drought. Plant this in full sun except for desert areas, where partial shade is preferred. Strawberry trees do very well in coastal areas because they are tolerant of salt. These adapt to a range of pH from slightly acidic to alkaline. However, a pH between 5 and 6 is considered idea. It prefers a well drained, moist soil.
Generally, strawberry tree has few insect or disease problems. In general, they like a Mediterranean climate. They can be grown elsewhere provided the weather is mild.
In addition to the cultivated strawberry tree, there are several related species that are native to the U.S., including one found in California and Oregon. This one is called Pacific madrone.