Geography 316:  Biogeography     In progress 12/11/2002

Thank you for visiting our site. This web pages was written by a student in Geography 316: Biogeography and edited by the instructor, Barbara Holzman, PhD.  All photos and maps are posted with specific copyright permission for the express use of education on these web pages. The students have tried to be as accurate as possible with the information provided and sources and references are cited at the end of each page. Please send comments to

The Biogeography of the Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii)


            by John Seagrave, student in Geography 316

   Species Name: Arbutus menziesii Pursh
 Kingdom:  Plantae

 Division: Magnoliophyta 

Subkingdom: Tracheobionta

Class :Magnliopdida-dicotyledons

Order:  Ericales

Family:  Ericaceae 

 Genus:Arbutus madrone

Species:Arbutus menziesii Pursh

Description of Species:
The madrone is a broadleaf evergreen tree easily identified by its reddish brown, papery bark that peels and flakes away from its trunk when the tree is mature. Younger tree’s bark is yellow-green and satin-smooth. The branches are typically crooked and have meandering stems. The crowns are broad and sparse and often patchy.The madrone has alternate, simple, evergreen leaves. They are large (7.5-12.5 cm long, 4-8 cm wide) shiny and sclerophlyous (Stuart, 2001). They turn to red and fall off in the summer, as new leaves grow in.


The small (6mm long), fragrant, white to pink flowers are urn-shaped and droop in clusters when they appear in March through June. 



photo credit Beatrice Howitt, California Academy of Science



The fruit are small berries (0.6 to 1.2 cm in
 diameter), round, bright orange to dull
red with pebbled skins and many seeds.





 Natural History:
The first European note of the madrone was in the diary of Father Crespi of the Portola Expedition in 1769. Crespi named it “madrono” after a sister species of southern European shrub with red berries that he knew as the strawberry tree. Archibald Menzies (1754-1842), a
British naval surgeon and botanist formally named the species “Arbutus” after the Latin word for the strawberry tree.

The madrone flowers between mid March and May (Hunter, 1995). Madrone flowers are eaten by deer and also attract bees (Cornell, 1938). It sprouts following injury from fire or cutting (Stuart, 2001).   

Madrone’s red berries mature in the autumn and are eaten by birds, rodents, deer and wood rats. They are especially popular with band-tailed pigeons and the mourning dove. Dispersal is also by gravity although berries do not typically roll or travel far from the parent due to their weight and the leaf cover onto which they fall (McDonald, 2002).

Mature specimens average 10-12 meters tall but the largest can be over 40 m tall (Munz, 1968). Madrones are slow growing and can live to be 400-500 years old (Stuart, 2001). Their stout trunks are often gnarled and very picturesque. 

The wood of the madrone is fine-grained, hard and brittle. It can be used for cabinet work and also makes excellent charcoal. The bark of the madrone can be used to tan leather. Native Americans used the berries as food, eating them fresh or dried and the bark as medicine in a tea to soothe stomachaches and the leaves as an ointment for cuts (Klepadlos, 2000). 

Phytophthora spots on madrone leaves

The madrone appears to be susceptible to infestation by Phytophthora ramorum, the pathogen responsible for Sudden Oak Death. Purplish leaf spots and stem cankers can result in branch dieback substantial enough to cause death (Alexander, 2002). The USDA reports that thousands of madrones have succumbed to the pathogen since its discovery in the mid-nineties (Frankel, 2001) but others caution that of all the species suspected of vulnerability to Sudden Oak Deathmadrone is the most difficult host in which to recognize Phytophthora

 (California Oak Mortality Task Force, 2002).  Diagnosis of Phytophthora in madrones is complicated by its high susceptibility to other pathogens that have similar symptoms (Garbelotto, 2002). For example, in California's Santa Cruz Mountains, most mature madrones are infected with Botryospheria ribis, or madrone twig blight, which gradually kills the tree and has symptoms in common with Sudden Oak Death (Coate, 2002). Some advise that, until better tests for Phytophthora in madrones are developed, the presence of infected species nearby is the  best indication of for determining the presence of the pathogen in the field (California Oak Mortality Task Force, 2002).

The madrone is a member of the Heath family (
Ericaceae ) of vascular green plants. Ericaceae is under the order Ericales, which evolved from Magnoliales,  which in turn descended from proangiosperms (Scagel, 1965).



The madrone is found in broadleaf and coniferous forests, woodlands and chaparral communities of Coast Ranges from British Columbia to southern California, along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and in isolated groves as far south as Mexico. The madrone’s high tolerance to drought, temperature extremes, shade and elevation enable it to thrive in these differing habitats. It can survive with as little as 37 cm to as much as 370 cm of rain per year. The elevation limits of its habitat are from 100m to 1500 m (Stuart, 2001).

Although the madrone can grow in many soil types, it is often found in poor soils, often those with good internal drainage and poor moisture retention in the summer. Madrones grow on all aspects but are most typically found on rocky outcrops facing south or west (MacDonald, 2002).

In mixed evergreen forest areas of the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades the madrone is typically associated with black oak (Quercus kelloggii), tan oak (Lithocarpus densiflora), coulter pine (Pinus coulteri), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and California laurel (Umbellularia californica). In this community it serves with tan oak as an understory canopy to the Douglas fir’s over story.

In the oak-madrone forests of the Coast Ranges, Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)  dominates the lower elevations and only away from the coast does the madrone become common (Barbour, 1977).

Madrone can also thrive in coast redwood forests under the dominant redwood (Sequoia sempevirens) and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) which are found mainly on the western side of Coast Ranges from Monterey County to Oregon (Barbour, 1977).

After a disturbance such as fire or extensive logging, the madrone is an early sprouter and together with tan oak can dominate an area before Douglas firs start to grow back (Klepadlos, 2000).

Geographic Range of Arbutus menziesii. (Little, 1976)

Madrone as Artistic Inspiration


    by Bret Harte 

CAPTAIN of the Western wood,
Thou that apest Robin Hood !
Green above thy scarlet hose,
How thy velvet mantle shows !
Never tree like thee arrayed,
O thou gallant of the glade!

When the fervid August sun
Scorches all it looks upon,
And the balsam of the pine
Drips from stem to needle fine,
Round thy compact shade arranged,
Not a leaf of thee is changed!

When the yellow autumn sun
Saddens all it looks upon,
Spreads its sackcloth on the hills,
Strews its ashes in the rills,
Thou thy scarlet hose dost doff,

And in limbs of purest buff
Challengest the sombre glade
For a sylvan masquerade.

Where, oh, where, shall he begin
Who would paint thee, Harlequin ?
With thy waxen burnished leaf,
With thy branches' red relief,
With thy polytinted fruit,--
In thy spring or autumn suit,--
Where begin, and oh, where end,
Thou whose charms all art transcend?



Alexander, Janice. 2002.  University of California Cooperative Extension, Marin. Viewed online November 4, 2002: .

Barbour, Michael G. and Jack Major. 1977. Terrestrial Vegetation of California. John Wiley and Sons. New York. p. 373.

Pacific Forestry Centre / Great Lakes Forestry Centre, Canadian Forest Service. "Pest Fact Sheet", December 2001: PHYTOPHTHORA RAMORUM (SUDDEN OAK DEATH). Viewed online December7, 2002 at protect/facren/sodfacte.pdf

California Oak Mortality Task Force and the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region, State and Private Forestry, Forest Health Protection. Recognizing symptoms of Phytophthora ramorum, a new pathogen causing Sudden Oak Death. Viewed online December 7, 2002 at EducationalMaterials/diagnosticguide101201.pdf

Coate, Barrie. 2002. Sudden Oak Death.  Viewed online December 7, 2002 at  oak_death.htm

Cornell, Ralph. 1938. Conspicuous California Plants. San Pasqual Press. Pasadena. p. 17-22.

Elliot,  Marianne. 1999. “The Decline of Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii Pursh) in Urban and Natural Environments:  Its causes and management.” MS thesis. University of Washington. College of Forest Resources.

Frankel, Susan. 2001. Pest Report. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service Region 5, Forest Health Protection NA-PR-06-01.[Online] Available: [viewed November 22, 2002]

Garbelotto, Matteo, et al. How to recognize symptoms of diseases caused by Phytophthora ramorum, causal agent of Sudden Oak Death. Berkeley, Ca. : University of California Cooperative Extension. Viewed online 7 December 2002 at                     

Hickman, James. 1993 The Jepson Manual.  University of California Press. Berkeley. p. 545.

Hunter, J.C. 1995. Extrafloral nectaries in Arbutus menziesii (Pacific madrone). Madrono. 41 (2):127. 

Kartesz, John (March, 2000). Integrated Taxonomic Information System. [Online] Available: [viewed October 7, 2002]

Klepadlos, Sandra and Christopher Eccles. 2000. CSU Fullerton, Biological Science Home Page. Viewed online October 21, 2002 at

Little, Elbert L. Jr. 1976. Atlas of United States trees. vol. 3. Minor western Hardwoods. U.S. Department of
Agriculture, Miscellaneous Publication 1314. Washington D.C.

Madison, David . 2001. The Tree of Life. [Online]. Viewed online November 4, 2002 at

Munz, Philip A. and David Keck. 1968. A California Flora. University of California Press. Berkeley. p. 415.

Peterson, P.V. 1966. Native Trees of Southern California. University of California Press. Berkeley.                  

Philip M. McDonald and John C. Tappeiner, ForestWorld. Middlebury, VT. Viewed online October 21, 2002 at

Scagel, Robert F. 1965. An Evolutionary History of the Plant Kingdom. Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, Cal.

Stuart, John D. and John O. Sawyer. 2001. Trees and Shrubs of California. ] University of California Press. Berkeley. p. 150-2.


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