Arbutus - Canada's Only Native Broad-leafed Evergreen Tree

B.C.'s largest circumference (7.8 meters) Arbutus, Dockyards CFB, Esquimalt
Arbutus, or Pacific Madrone, are magnificent trees that grow along the west coast. In British Columbia, Arbutus (Arbutus menzeisii) is found in the dry southeast regions of Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and bits of the lower mainland. They are very distinctive trees that frequently grace artists renderings of the area, clinging to the rocks and standing up to gale force winds.

Arbutus are found as far south as Mexico, giving this tree one of the longest north-south ranges of any North American tree. It is Canada's only native broad-leafed evergreen tree, and usually resides not farther than 8 km from the pounding waves of the Pacific ocean.

Arbutus in Roche Cove Regional Park, Sooke
These unique and striking trees live in quickly drained, shallow, nutrient-poor soils on rocky outcrops. In these locations trunks commonly split into several main branches close to the ground, creating massive canopies of red, orange and chartreuse coloured twisted branches. Arbutus are sun loving trees.
Huge canopy of Arbutus in Roche Cove Regional Park, Sooke
Arbutus are also found in dry, open forests in deeper soils, where they grow a single tall trunk before branching farther up to make a compact crown. Arbutus are commonly found with other drought-tolerant trees such as Douglas-fir and Garry oak.

Largest (398 AFA points) known, and tallest (35.54 m), Arbutus in B.C., Thetis Island

Arbutus are not known for sustaining damage in wind storms. This is partly because their wood is dense and strong. Heavy wet snow, on the other hand, can break their branches.

Arbutus flowers and leaves, Shaun Hubbard photo
Arbutus leaves are oval shaped and have a leathery texture. The tree sport bunches of small, bell-shaped white flowers that bring a fragrant essence to the forest at the water's edge every spring. Their red berry is edible, and birds such as waxwings and robins dine on them.

Arbutus bark has a variety of appearances depending on its age
Arbutus does not drop all its leaves in the fall, although the trees reddish bark peels off revealing the smooth, new green bark underneath.

These are tough trees that weather summer drought conditions well, and prefer very dry to moderately dry soils.

If they are damaged by fire they are able to sprout fresh growth from the trunk, giving them an advantage over fire damaged conifers. Fire is not much of a threat these days, though, but forms of fungus are. Many of B.C.'s Arbutus are suffering from different forms of fungus, including root rot, which is damaging and killing a number of trees. Scientists believe this is due to stresses put on Arbutus by unusually dry winters. Habitat loss is also a threat.

On south Vancouver Island just about any coastal area will feature notable Arbutus. Regional parks are good places to see these amazing trees. Witty's Lagoon Regional Park in Metchosin features some very large Arbutus. Beach Trail, which starts next to the Nature Center, takes the hiker past one of the largest and oldest Arbutus in the area.

Giant Arbutus at Witty's Lagoon Regional Park
Other places to view Arbutus are Roche Cove, and East Sooke Regional Parks. Victoria has many large urban Arbutus. Also in the Victoria area, the Saanich Peninsula has many notable Arbutus.

Enjoy the many opportunities Vancouver Island has for viewing Canada's only native broad-leafed evergreen tree. Some of the best Arbutus habitat (and individual specimens) in B.C. can be found here.


  1. Anonymous24/5/12

    There is an arbutus 274 cm in diameter (860 cm circumference) off East Saanich Road, by the Vantright Farms in North Saanich.

    1. Thank you for sharing. Will be putting this tree on the 'must visit' list.

  2. Anonymous10/8/12

    Ours in Langford is 2.1 meters in diameter.

  3. Anonymous10/7/13

    And yet people care more about dryer repair in Denver and wherever else they reside rather than caring for a living organism such as this. Selfishness is taught my friends, "human nature" has absolutely nothing to do with it. A dryer is useful, but not needed, nor important. Another species' life is.

  4. I am searching for any fallen arbutus branches that anyone is willing to donate in order to construct a bird play stand for my lovebirds. I can be reached via email: melissa-robinson@live.ca Thanks.

  5. Anonymous26/12/14

    Why are there so few new growth Arbutus. We live on the Gulf Islands and there are barely any that are new saplings, or even just 2 or 3 ft tall or maybe even 6 to 8 feet. Is anyone looking into what is causing them to not produce new trees? Im concerned that there is some environmental change preventing new growth and in 10 to 50 years we will then notice it much much more which may be too late. tracyhodgins@gmail.com

  6. Anonymous15/7/15

    Is the Arbutus tree an endangered/protected species. My neighbour wants to cut mine down!!!

    1. It depends where the tree is located. Check local bylaws. Even if the tree is not protected one should pause before cutting it down. Arbutus (and all trees) need as much of our help as they can get. Preservation should always be the goal.

  7. There are Arbutus trees in Idyllwild, a mountain near Palm Springs. They cover just a small park on the mountain. I learned this when visiting. The ecosystem there matches southern Vancouver Island. This is what I was told by people who live on that mountain and work there. I visited the park and the tree certainly resembled the Arbutus trees in Victoria and surroundings. Can anyone confirm this?

  8. My arbutus tree is close to the house and has an enormous root about a foot from the foundation. Anyone know if it would damage the foundation?

    1. Any tree within 3 meters can damage your house foundation. I had a had a young maple tree that the City of Surrey removed , I did get a permit.

  9. The problem can often be resolved by making a larger tree well and then placing a tree grate. A tree grate is a metal cover that goes over the open tree well. Recommended Site

  10. Arbutus or the strawberry tree is a small evergreen tree that is about 30 meters tall mostly in Ireland. In fact, if we focus a bit on its uses Arbutus bark is very rich in a substance used for tanning hides and it is even used for several wood working procedures. It may even interest you to know that "Madrone" is a Spanish word commonly known for the strawberry tree.

  11. As the indoor bonsai trees are generally smaller and easier to maintain than outdoor bonsai trees they are much more manageable for beginners. BonsaiTreeGardener.net

  12. Does anyone know of plants that grow well under an arbutus?

  13. Anonymous24/7/18

    Gave numerous arbutus sprouting from our home foundation .. is this damaging ?


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