Arbutus 'Marina' (Marina Strawberry Tree) - A medium to large evergreen tree, growing to 25-50+ feet tall with a broad dense crown and annual growth causing older bark to peel away from the trunk and branches, revealing the beautiful shiny red new bark underneath. Branch tips are adorned with 3- to 4-inch-long leathery leaves that are glossy and dark green on the upper surface and paler below with shallow toothed margins. Pendulous clusters of urn-shaped white-blushed-pink flowers are produced year-round along the coast, with peaks in spring and fall. The flowers are followed by red gritty fruit that, while technically edible, are not really that palatable.
Plant in full to part day sun. It is "drought tolerant" and requires little supplemental irrigation in coastal gardens but looks best with an occasional deep summer watering. Hardy to 15-20 degrees F with some tip damage on young plants with temperatures in the low 20's F and tolerates near seashore conditions. This beautiful tree has incredible bark and flowers that are attractive to birds and butterflies, but it is a bit messy as it drops flowers, fruit, spent inflorescences, twigs and sheading bark year-round, so its placement location in the garden should reflect this. This is our top selling tree and we grow it both in a natural low branching form and trained up as a "Standard" that is high headed and useful in patios or for street tree use – for images and information on the Standard plants see our listing at Arbutus 'Marina' (standard form).
This tree is likely a selection of Arbutus x andrachnoides, sometimes called the Red Barked Strawberry Tree, that is a naturally occurring hybrid between two European trees, the Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo, which is found in the British Isles south through western Europe and the Grecian (or Greek) Strawberry Tree , Arbutus andrachne, that can be found around the Mediterranean regions of southeastern Europe east to northern Iraq.
Arbutus 'Marina' was named and introduced into the California nursery trade in 1984 by the Saratoga Horticultural Foundation from cuttings taken from a tree in the San Francisco garden of Carla and Victor Reiter, though the origin of this tree remains a bit of a mystery. Mr. Reiter's tree, planted in his garden in 1944, had been acquired in 1933 when he was allowed to take vegetative cuttings from a boxed specimen at the Strybing Arboretum (now the San Francisco Botanic Garden). The Strybing Arboretum, then under director Eric Walther, had purchased the boxed tree that same year from the closing-down sale of Western Nursery on Lombard Street in the San Francisco Marina District (hence the name 'Marina'). Charles Abrahams, the owner of Western Nursery, was thought to have taken cuttings from various trees, including this one, that were sent from Europe for a horticultural display at the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exposition held in Golden Gate Park. Unfortunately, there is no documentation on where this tree came from but some speculate that it was sent to the exposition by the Italian Government.
Sadly, the original historic and beautiful specimen tree in the Reiter's garden began to fall over and was cut down in 2006 – there is a picture of this tree on our Arbutus 'Marina' page. The tree in our nursery garden was planted in 1989 and was officially measured on July 24 2013 for inclusion on the California Big Tree Registry at 44 feet 10 inches tall with an average crown spread of 53 feet 5 inches wide and a trunk circumference of 108". It was then declared the largest measured specimen in California and also declared the National Champion. It was measured again ten years later in June 2023 at 50.5' feet tall, with and average crown width of 64.75 feet and a trunk circumference of 132 inches to update the big tree listing. There is a picture of the tree in our garden a few years after planting and a more recent picture at San Marcos Growers Arbutus. We have sold this beautiful cultivar trained both as a natural low branched tree and as a single stemmed standard at our nursery since 1990.
Information about Arbutus 'Marina' displayed on this page is based on our research about it conducted in our library and gathered from reliable online sources. We include observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery gardens and in other gardens that we have visited, as well as how the crops have performed in containers in our own nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others about this plant when we feel it adds information and particularly welcome hearing from anyone who has any additional cultural recommendations that would aid others in growing it.