Madrona

Published June 18, 2003 / by Steve Berentson

I have always loved the madrona tree, a Northwest wonder. Childhood memories include neighborhood expeditions to collect the smooth, brown bark. The madrona pictured here was photographed on a bluff just off the Loop Road in Washington Park. There is also a stand of trees downtown, between the Anacortes Depot and Cap Sante Marina. Freelance writer Beth Cahape noted in a recent article in the Port Townsend Leader OnLine: “Madronas are part of the larger ‘broad leaf evergreen’ family of plants that includes such well-known ornamentals as rhododendron, azaleas and mountain laurel. The madrona – also called madrone, arbutus and madrono depending upon what part of the Pacific Coast you’re from – is part of a sub-group of plants called arbutus. There are about a dozen arbutus species that grow worldwide, three of which inhabit North America. The madrona (arbutus menziesii) is the only one that regularly grows to a full-sized tree. It can reach 80 feet in height, with a rare few as tall as 100 feet. Its trunk can be as wide as 2 to 3 feet. Oftentime, however, it grows to shrubby, lower heights of 25 to 40 feet in close proximity to Douglas fir and near other conifer-dominated forests. Madronas are slow-growing. A tree with a trunk measuring 12 to 16 inches in diameter might be as old as 85 years. Many native Northwest tribes historically used its bark and fruit for medicinal purposes and carefully cured the wood to make sacred objects. The most striking aspect of the madrona is its brilliantly colored bark. Ketzel Levine, National Public Radio commentator and horticulturist, describes it as having ‘sleek, burnt-orange bark and rippling trunk, stripped down by time to a lascivious smoothness too stimulating to be legal’.”

About Steve Berentson
A fourth generation Skagit County native who was moved kicking and screaming from this island community in 1960. I finally reclaimed an Anacortes address in 1980, and I have been in constant celebration of my return since that time. Many of us who call Anacortes home love Fidalgo Island for its natural assets: among them are rugged beaches, pristine lakes, thousands of acres of forestland and some awesome views of the Skagit Valley and surrounding islands. Another element of my love affair with this community is its people, both natives and immigrants. They will “star” in many of my journal entries.

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