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REFRIGERATOR TREES

Found along the North American coastline from British Columbia to Baja California, Pacific madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii) are well known for their beauty, but more often are known for being cold to the touch. The madrone tree’s bark makes it easily identified, with smooth orange-red bark that peels and curls as it ages, and eventually falls off, leaving its inner bark (often a pale green) bare and visible. Even on hot days, madrones still feel cool due to water running upwards in the trunk just beneath the bark layer. 

Often also referred to as madrona, bearberry, or sometimes strawberry trees, madrone trees (and in particular, their bark) have been historically used to treat a variety of diseases by Native Americans, and are still used to make flavorings and tea. They, like other trees, require fire to germinate, and even hold an advantage during times of intermittent fires, due to their ability to survive fire and regenerate more quickly than some of their conifer neighbors, like Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Madrone trees are also known to be excellent for their assistance in erosion control, as their roots spread widely and quickly, holding soil in place along the erosion-prone West coast of North America. 

All around, pretty cool trees… pun certainly intended. 

BN

Photo Credit: Randell Zerr, as hosted by http://www.nps.gov/bibe/photosmultimedia/Plants-and-Animals.htm

Further Resources:
http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_arme.pdf
http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/pugetsound/species/madrone.html
Introduction to Trees of the San Francisco Bay Region. 2002. Glenn Keator. University of California Press

"Dig a big pit in a dirt alley road / fill it with madrone and bay"

Tom Waits was my first introduction to the madrone tree, oddly enough. I think the lyric meant it as a smoke wood for barbecuing (and I’ve heard it does impart the faintest sweet, smoky flavor—just don’t take me at my word), though it’s more commonly used as a fuel wood for campfires and the like.

Beautiful, resilient, functional, oddly chilly. Pretty neat trees overall. —MN

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