Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Strawberry Tree and its History

In the court yard nestled between Bonner and Mayer Hall there grows lovely little tree-shrubs known as Arbutus unedo. Arbutus unedo or strawberry tree, originally come from Ireland and other parts of Europe. The reason why the common name is strawberry tree is that the fruits are the color of strawberries and are texture as though it has seeds on the outside. The flowers that produce the fruit are either white or light pink. The little fruits are edible but not considered particularly tasty because they are bitter and have a mealy texture. The fruit's taste is where it got its species name unedo, which comes from a Latin word meaning "I eat one", because once you eat one you would not want another, though in some countries the fruits are made into preserves and jams. Strawberry trees grow well in a wide variety of soils and are drought-resistant, allowing them to prosper in coastal California. Due to its attractive appearance and easy cultivation, it is often used in landscaping.

The strawberry tree has several legends attached to its usage. In Rome, the Arbutus was an attribute of Cardea, sister of Phoebus, who used her rod of a strawberry tree branch to drive away witches and protect children who were ill or bewitched. Strawberry trees were also used during a festival honoring the pastoral goddess Pallas. Another custom the Romans had involving Arbutus unedo was to place branches of the plant on coffins.

So if you happen to walk by a strawberry tree and feel a bit hungry, go ahead pick yourself a berry, though you most likely will only want one.

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