Madrone Tree (Arbutus menziesii) Guide: Grow, Plant Tips for Broadleaf Evergreen

Woman looking at a madrone tree (arbutus menziesii) wonders how to identify madrone wood, leaves, flower, seeds, how to grow madrone trees (growing zone) care tips for red bark trees.

The very first written record of the Pacific Madrone Tree comes from American explorer and adventurer Meriwether Lewis, who wrote the following in his diary on December 1, 1805 as he traveled the Cascade Locks in Oregon:1

“The tree which bears a red burry in clusters of a round form and size of a red haw. the leaf like that of the small magnolia, and dark smooth and of a brickdust red color it appears to be of the evergreen kind.”

More than two centuries later, this bark that Lewis described as brickdust red is still the defining characteristic of the Madrone, a tree that is found all over the Pacific coast of the U.S.

Since it was first described in writing in 1805, researchers have discovered how the Madrone has long been a sacred part of many local native cultures, while scientists have learned how this tree supports soil stability and local forest ecosystems.

Even more exciting is the idea that anyone with a moderately green thumb can grow a Madrone Tree on their own, given the right planting zones and growth conditions. This guide outlines how, whether you want to grow a tree or learn more about this distinct evergreen species.

Growing Zones for Madrone Tree

Wondering about the best growing zones for Madrone Tree?

Where to grow Madrone Trees is a fairly well-established fact; these trees grow best along the Pacific coast, from British Columbia to Los Angeles.8

Madrone Tree Growing Zone

The Madrone Tree growing zone ranges down the Pacific coast of North America from British Columbia in Canada to Los Angeles in California. The Madrone can also be found somewhat inland in the Sierra Nevada range. Looking at USDA plant hardiness zones, the growing zones for the Madrone include 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a and 8b.6

You can review this map to see if you live in one of these zones.9

Best Growing Conditions for Madrone Tree

To understand the best growing conditions for Madrone Tree plantings, take a look at this tree’s natural habitat. It’s found in nature in shady forests and woodlands,8 particularly those with enough gaps in the canopy to let some sunlight in.5 The Madrone prefers partially shaded areas, well-drained soil, and a north-facing slope.8

Graphics with texts and images that shows how to identify madrone tree through its flower, leaf, bark, and fruits.

In terms of elevation, you can find this tree between 2,000 and 4,260 feet at the southern end of its growing range near L.A., and between sea level and 3,000 feet at the northern end of its growing range in Washington and British Columbia.

In terms of temperature, the Madrone grows best when temperatures don’t dip below 36 degrees F in January, or above 77 degrees F in July.10 These drought tolerant trees prefer a mild wet winter and a cool dry summer.

Madrone Tree Growth Rate

The Madrone Tree growth rate is less than impressive for those seeking a fast-growing species. If you’re wondering how long it takes to grow Madrone Trees, you might want to choose another tree altogether for your garden as this species is a notoriously slow grower.

Expect juvenile trees to grow about 1 to 3 feet per year, while older, established trees will grow just 1 to 2 feet per year.10 The Madrone grows fastest in the northern end of its native zone – good news for Washingtonians – and much slower down south – sorry Angelenos.

Growing a Madrone Tree From a Seed, Cutting, Seedling

Thinking about growing a Madrone Tree from a seed, cutting, seedling or some other way? Plan your garden layout with care, because the Madrone can live for 200 years or more, but can be notoriously difficult to transplant.8

Growing a Madrone Tree From a Seed

Growing a Madrone Tree from a seed requires you to first separate the seed from the fruit, which isn’t an easy task.

Generally, the tree begins producing seeds in the fall. They should be harvested and placed in a blender for 2 to 5 minutes to create a pulp so that the seeds can be separated by hand.11 It is fairly difficult to separate the seeds by hand because of the fruit’s tough skin.

Once separated, seeds should be dried for a week, soaked in water for 24 hours, then left to germinate in a controlled setting measuring 68 to 80 degrees F.11

Growing a Madrone Tree From a Seedling

Growing a Madrone Tree from a seedling takes a few seasons. Start by germinating the seed between 68 and 80 degrees F. The newly-grown seedlings should be treated with fungicide to help prevent disease.

It should be planted in an individual tree pot outdoors for at least two months, and shouldn’t be transferred to the ground until a full season has passed.

It is very difficult to transplant a Madrone Tree, especially once it’s taller than a foot in height.2 This means that as you’re moving a Madrone from seed to tree pot, sooner is usually better than later in terms of success rate.

Growing a Madrone Tree From a Cutting

Growing a Madrone Tree from a cutting is unlikely to be successful. While many trees can be grown using a simple stem cutting, cuttings from the Madrone rarely become independent Madrone Trees, even under the care of scientists in laboratory conditions.12 Growing this tree from a cutting requires bioengineering interventions in most cases, and is not a task for the average gardener.

Madrone Tree

(Arbutus menziesii)

Photo of the blossoms of Madrone Tree in an oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Ericaceae
  • Genus: Arbutus
  • Leaf: Broadleaf evergreen
  • Bark: Red to reddish brown
  • Seed: Similar in appearance to strawberry seeds
  • Blossoms: Showy, white and fragrant flowers
  • Fruit: Bright red-orange berries
  • Native Habitat: Pacific Northwest
  • Height: Up to 100 feet in the wild
  • Canopy: As wide as 50 feet
  • Type: Evergreen
  • Native Growing Zone: 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Image Credit: Chris Light18

Companion Plants for Growing Madrone Tree

When planning companion plants for growing Madrone Trees on your property, start with native plants.13 Other good options include Redwoods, fir, and pine trees. All types of ivy should be avoided because it weighs down the tree, as well as the Scotch broom plant, which is known to introduce fungus harmful to Madrones.

Caring for a Madrone Tree

Caring for a Madrone Tree involves balancing its needs, including watering, sun exposure, spacing, and other concerns.

  • Watering needs for Madrone Tree: It might seem like watering a tree is hard to overdo, but that isn’t necessarily the case with the Madrone. These trees are very drought-resistant but are highly susceptible to rot and other issues caused by overwatering. Once your Madrone is established, water only once a month.8
  • Mulching around trees: Use mulch or loose bark around the base of your Madrone to prevent rot.13
  • How far apart to plant Madrone Tree: The Madrone Tree can reach great heights, so plant these trees 24 to 60 feet apart so their broad rootbase can spread freely.6
  • How much sunlight does Madrone Tree need each day: The Madrone needs 6 hours of full sun each day, making it an excellent choice for north-facing slopes.6
  • Soil needs: The Madrone prefers well-draining soil, including clay, silt, and loam.

Pacific Madrone Tree

The Pacific Madrone Tree is closely associated with its native region, and it’s one of the most recognizable red bark trees found in the western U.S. Before you explore planting tips for Madrone Trees, take a look at this tree’s colorful story and legends.

Arbutus Menziesii

Scientists call this tree Arbutus menziesii – after Scottish naturalist Archibald Menzies, who was known for his work in categorizing trees in the Pacific Northwest –  but it’s better known as the Pacific Madrone or Madrone Tree.2 Here are some of its other common names:

  • Madrono: This comes from the fact that the Pacific Madrone looks a lot like the Arbutus unedo – or Strawberry tree – found around the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Madrona
  • Arbutus: A name used more commonly in Canada1

And a few nicknames:

  • Refrigerator Tree: For its ability to store water within its roots and trunk
  • Strawberry Tree: For its berry-red fruit that resemble strawberries

Arbutus Tree

The Arbutus tree is a powerful part of the story and legend for some native tribes, particularly those in British Columbia. One story tells of a great flood when the local tribes bound their canoes to the mighty Arbutus tree with rope.3 As the water rose, the tree gave a message that the people would be safe.

Graphics with texts and images that shows the best growing conditions for madrone tree such as watering needs, soil needs, sunlight requirements, planting spacing, and mulching around trees.

Eventually, the water receded, and the native people honored the tree by vowing never to burn its sacred wood. Even today, the wood of the Madrone Tree is rarely burned among some cultures.

Archaeologists have also discovered practical ways that tribes in what is now the Pacific Northwest used the Madrone or Arbutus tree. Not only did they eat its fruit and use it to make cider, but the colorful fruit was also used as bait for fishing. Natives used the leaves and bark of the tree to make medicines and even formed wooden roots into tools and utensils.4

Madrone Tree Facts

Some interesting Madrone Tree facts include a look at this evergreen’s closest relatives, which include rhododendrons, mountain laurel, and the humble blueberry bush.

Another interesting fact is the Madrone’s relationship to forest fires. For this tree, forest fires are a good thing, and help to ensure greater spread and propagation. The threat to the Madrone’s conservation status has increased in tandem with the success of fire conservation initiatives.5

But why does fire benefit this tree? It all comes down to reproduction techniques. Like most trees, tree pollination for the Madrone is largely left up to the birds and the bees under normal circumstances.

After a major fire, however, the Madrone has a series of burls at the base which can be pollinated and form multi-trunked trees… These burls allow the tree to quickly propagate and spread, regenerating a forest after it has been burned.

Why Isn’t Madrone Wood Used for Furniture or Flooring?

While many types of trees are cut down and made into furniture or wood flooring, the Madrone isn’t a good choice for most woodworking projects. That’s because it shrinks more than most other hardwoods as it dries, which means warping, splitting, and roughness. This tree also doesn’t necessarily grow as straight and true as other woods, further adding to the difficulties of using it for woodworking.

Photo of a mossy Madrone Tree in the woods.

(Image: Dicklyon17)

Using a quartersawn technique can make Madrone more workable, but this wood is still less common than many other tree species for things like flooring and furniture.15

How To Identify Madrone Tree

If you’re trying to figure out how to identify a Madrone Tree, start with a peek at the sky. This broadleaf evergreen can soar as high as 50 to 100 feet in the wild but tends to top out between 25 and 50 feet tall in backyard gardens.1 Its canopy spreads between 20 and 50 feet wide.6

Madrone Leaves

Madrone leaves are oval or elliptical, measuring 3 to 6 inches long and up to 3 inches wide.6 They have a leathery texture and a glossy or waxy appearance. You may also be surprised to learn that these leaves regenerate every two years, rather than annually, or at longer intervals.

Madrone Flower

The attractive and fragrant Madrone flower appears in the spring. White in color, it has a bell or urn shape and grows in clusters. Each flower is less than an inch long and has a honey-like scent.6

Madrone Tree Fruit

If you ever see Madrone Tree fruit, you’ll understand why it’s often called the strawberry tree. It features tiny orange-red fruit in the fall or winter. While they can be consumed, they don’t have an appealing taste and are more often made into cider.

Madrone Seeds

Madrone seeds are found throughout the berry-like fruit of this tree, similar to the seeds of a strawberry. Each berry contains an average of 15 to 25 seeds, and the size of a berry is generally not related to how many seeds it will contain.7 While some gardeners may be tempted to plant the entire fruit when trying to grow these trees, this often results in fungal diseases that kill the tree, so it’s better to extract the seeds from the berry before planting.

Madrone Tree Wood

Madrone Tree wood ranges in color from reddish-brown to a maroon or cinnamon hue. It is papery thin and peels off easily, removing a harder and smoother copper-colored bark underneath.

Threats to the Madrone Tree

If you wish to successfully cultivate this species, it’s helpful to understand common threats to the Madrone Tree, as well as the best way to handle them. This includes looking at both diseases and pests that are known to harm this tree.

Madrone Tree Disease Prevention

When it comes to Madrone Tree disease prevention, knowledge is power. These are the three biggest diseases that plague the Madrone, as well as the symptoms they can cause:14

  1. Foliar Blight: Foliar blight is a fungal disease that causes brown, dried-out leaves and lesions on the trunk and stems of the Madrone. It’s very common when the weather is unusually rainy.
  2. Phytophthora Root Rot: Caused by fungal spores called Phytophthora, this disease causes wilting, yellowing leaves on Madrone Trees. It sets in during periods of excess moisture, when the fungal spores attach to the roots of the plant and ravage it from bottom to top.
  3. Cankers: Cankers on a Madrone Tree are surprisingly similar to a canker sore in your mouth. They look like a large sunken hole in the tree trunk or branch, and like most other Madrone diseases, are caused by fungal spores.

How To Stop Madrone Tree Disease

If you’re looking to stop Madrone Tree disease once it begins, here are a few helpful tips:

  • Avoid overwatering:15 Many common Madrone diseases are the result of excessive moisture, which creates a perfect breeding ground for fungal spores. Water your tree infrequently, and remember that the Madrone is remarkably drought-tolerant. Overwatering is much more of a problem than underwatering in most cases.
  • Maintain proper ground conditions: Piles of fallen leaves at the base of your tree trap moisture, allowing root rot and blight to take hold. Always rake leaves away from the tree, and use mulch or bark to ensure proper moisture levels.
  • Prune dead branches: Dead branches are nothing more than a breeding ground for disease. Keep them pruned and away from your tree to maintain its health. While you’re pruning, be gentle, as damaged bark can cause wounds that transform into cankers. If you do spot a canker, prune off the branch or stem if possible to save the rest of the tree.

Common Pests of the Madrone Tree

You may be surprised to learn that the mighty Madrone Tree suffers relatively little damage from insects of any kind. While some tree species can be completely decimated by insects, the Madrone is not one of them.

Graphics with text and images that shows how to stop Madrone Tree diseases.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Madrone doesn’t face some minor insect issues. Some common pests of the Madrone Tree include:16

  • Aphids
  • Leaf Miners
  • Fall Webworms
  • Western Tent Caterpillars

Natural Pest Control for Madrone Tree

Natural pest control for Madrone Trees is relatively simple compared to the laborious pest control and treatment methods required by some other plants and trees. Here’s how to keep pests from interfering with the growth or appearance of your Madrone:

  • Prune and remove dead branches or any branches containing the tents/webs of webworms or caterpillars. Tents/webs on healthy branches can be removed using a broom or by hand.
  • Knock aphids off by hand. If there are large numbers or you can’t reach them, you can also spray them off using a hose.

While growing a Madrone Tree takes the right growing conditions and extra attention to moisture control and watering, this evergreen not only provides attractive flowers but also attracts birds, bees, and other pollinators that can keep your garden growing for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions About Madrone Tree

Is the Texas Arbutus Tree the Same as the Pacific Madrone?

No, because the Texas Madrone, or Texas Arbutus, is a unique species all its own. Typically much shorter than its Pacific cousin, the Arbutus xalapensis often tops out at 20 to 30 feet. It is a close relative of Arbutus arizonica, or the Arizona Madrone and all of these species are also related to the Arbutus unedo, a small tree found in the Mediterranean.


1Madrone Tree (U.S. (2021, June 25). National Park Service. Retrieved December 14, 2023, from <>

2Arbutus menziesii | Landscape Plants | Oregon State University. (n.d.). Oregon State Landscape Plants. Retrieved December 14, 2023, from <>

3CouncilW. L. (n.d.). Four Stories Of How Things Came To Be. W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council. Retrieved December 13, 2023, from <>

4About Pacific Madrone. (n.d.). PPO Home. <>

5Pacific Madrone (U.S. National Park Service). (n.d.) <>

6Arbutus menziesii (Madrona, Madrone, Pacific Madrone) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2023, from <>

7EXTRACTION AND GERMINATION OF PACIFIC MADRONE SEED. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2023, from <>

8Madrone, Arbutus menziesii. (2010). <>

9USDA plant hardiness zone map. (2020). United States Department of Agriculture. <>

10Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) | Oregon Wood Innovation Center. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2023, from <>

11Propagation of Pacific Madrone. (n.d.). PPO Home. Retrieved December 13, 2023, from <>

12Selemon, B., & Bradshaw, T. (n.d.). Biotechnological Induction of Rooting in Arbutus menziesii. Retrieved December 13, 2023, from <>

13Management options for declining madrones in urban areas of the Puget Sound. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2023, from <>

14Diseases and Pests of Pacific Madrone. (n.d.). PPO Home. Retrieved December 13, 2023, from <>

15Support, E. W. (2018). What’s wrong with my madrone? Forestry & Natural Resources. <>

16Bennett, M., & Shaw, D. (2008). Diseases and Insect Pests of Pacific Madrone. <>

17Mossy Madrone in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Photo by Dicklyon / Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International. Wikimedia Commons. Cropped, Resized and Changed Retrieved December 13, 2023, from <>

18Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii) 7587 Photo by Chris Light / CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International. Cropped, Added text, shape, and background elements, and Changed format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved December 13, 2023, from <>