Arbutus unedo 'Compacta'
Compact Strawberry Tree
Compact Strawberry Tree is one of our favorites for so many reasons: it can tolerate sun or shade, is drought tolerant, provides fall flowers for the hummingbirds, has long lasting, spectacularly colored fruit and wonderfully shaggy bark - and it's also evergreen!
You can easily see how this relative of our native Madrone and Manzanitas gets its common name of Strawberry Tree. The orange and red fruits resemble strawberries, and although the fruit is technically edible, they are more for suited wildlife as they are bland and mealy in texture (Fun fact: the species name unedo is a combination of the Latin words unum meaning "one" and edo meaning "eat" resulting in "I eat only one", in reference to the technically edible, but distinctly untasty fruit!).
The honey scented, pinkish-white, urn-shaped flowers can appear from fall into early spring and the fruits often come on at the same time or not long after. As with many other fruiting shrubs, some years seem to have heavier fruit set than others - but the fruits are so decorative and long lasting that they don't qualify as messy. With leathery, dark green, oblong leaves, reddish new stems and shaggy auburn bark it is handsome all year.
Compact Strawberry Tree is not the fastest growing evergreen shrub, but it will grow steadily to 5-7' tall and wide (eventually larger). With annual pruning it can be kept tighter and smaller. This is one of those rare plants that is happy in sun or part shade making it a great choice for a hedge with varied conditions. It is also tolerant of various climates and soils.
Looking for something a bit taller, but with all the same great attributes as the Compact Strawberry Tree? The full-sized species - Arbutus unedo - gets about 10-15’ tall and wide at maturity. In its native habitat (Britain and the Mediterranean), Arbutus unedo usually grows as a multitrunked plant, but we also carry single-trunked specimens which make a really lovely small tree.
We have some planted on the north side of our house that have done wonderfully with no supplemental water after their first year and even survived the 7-degree winter with no damage! In extreme cold they will show some damage; so best to plant where they are not completely exposed to cold winds. The winter of 2013, where we got to zero degrees for several nights, proved fatal to some Arbutus and some rebounded after suffering damage on top.
Arbutus unedo 'Compacta' is great in foundation plantings or hedges. You will be hard-pressed to find an evergreen shrub with more year-round interest - plus the hummingbirds will thank you for providing a much-needed winter nectar source!