Pacific Madrona or Madrone is a prized native evergreen tree with brilliant cinnamon-brown bark, white flower-clusters, and bright red-orange edible fruits.
Pacific Madrona is a native food with edible bark and berries. The bark can be used to make a refreshing tea. The berries can be eaten fresh off the tree, simmered into a non-alcoholic cider, or dried and stored for future use.
In our experience, the berries vary in flavor and texture across their range, depending on growing conditions. For best flavor, wait until berries are fully red to harvest. In addition, we strongly recommend partially drying them to bring our their natural sweetness (if they dry too much, they get rock hard). These semi-dried berries can be refrigerated and become a unique and satisfying addition to granolas, oatmeal, fruit salads, chutneys, or any recipe where dried fruits/berries are called for. They can even be dried completely and ground into a powder to be used as a sweet spice through the Winter.
A bark tea can be made by placing a few bark curls in a quart of water, and bringing to a boil for just a minute or two. It has been described as having notes of fruitiness, cinnamon, and mushrooms, and can be served alone or used to form the base of a soup stock.
The fresh and crushed leaves also have a wide variety of medicinal uses, from treatment of stomach ailments to joint inflammation to skin burns.
Pacific Madrona has high ornamental value in home landscapes around the West, primarily because of stunning visual qualities of its bark. Madrona bark peels annually, strip by strip, revealing a living mosaic of browns, oranges, reds, and eventually greens up and down its smooth trunk. Indeed, the under-layers of revealed bark are truly a marvel to touch - smooth, hard, and cool, even on a hot day. To boot, the tree is evergreen, providing a gorgeous Winter contrast of reddish bark and berries alongside dark green glossy leaves. What's more, the Madrona's unique shape is stoic and picturesque, its spreading branches seemingly reaching in all directions at once.
Environment and Culture
Pacific Madrona is sun-loving tree, home to southern slopes, rocky outcrops, forest openings, sea-side cliffs, and any well-drained soils where conifers find it hard to find purchase. It ranges anywhere from sea level to over 3000 ft. in the mild maritime climates West of the Cascades and Sierra Mountains. Like Oaks, Madrona's are well-adapted wildfire species, generally able to re-sprout from the burl at its base and restore the forest quickly.
Towards the southern part of its range, Pacific Madrona is naturally found growing alongside Oregon White Oak, California Black Oak, and Canyon Live Oak, as well as Bush Chinquapin. Toward the northern part of its range, it can be found growing overtop dense stands of Salal, Pacific Blackberry, and Pacific Silverweed.
Plant in a rock garden, on a bluff with a bench, or alongside other NW natives. The tree can be kept small by pruning and it's light shade doesn't disturb the understory.
Harvest, Care, and Preparation
Pacific Madronas do not like to be transplanted once they are over 1 foot tall. (Our eco-pots allow the roots to be undisturbed.) Once planted on a well-drained sloping site, they are best kept with dry-moist soils even in the summer and with minimal fertilizer - this reduces chance of root rot and disease. After the 3rd year, the tree should be self-sustaining without any further care.
To make tea, the bark can be harvested in succession (and stored dry) as it naturally peels off throughout the year. The berries are ripe in Autumn, and are best-tasting when fully red in color. The berries can be cut in clusters from high limbs, or harvested from the ground during dry Fall days. Once collected, they should be washed and sorted, and then set out on screens or at a very low temperature in the oven to begin drying. See "edible uses" section above for preparation details.