Arbutus andrachne Linnaeus, 1759
Common names: Greek Strawberry Tree, Cyprus strawberry tree, Eastern Strawberry Tree [En], Arbousier de Chypre, Arbousier grec [Fr], Östlicher Erdbeerbaum [De], Madroño oriental, Madroño de Grecia [Es], Αγριοκουμαριά, Γλύστροκουμαριά [Gr], Yunan Çilek Ağacı, Yunan Kocayemişi, Sandal Ağacı [Tu]
Pezi, IKARIA ● Greece
Description: Evergreen tree which can grow to 10 m. The bark is smooth, tight and alludes to a trunk that is twisted underneath it as a squeezed floor mop. Every year it peels in picturesque scales, and the new bark underneath, which is at first green-brown, is then revealed.
The leaves are alternate, elliptical, glabrous (at the mature tree), large (5-9 cm long) dark green, and shiny on their upper side. They are carried on a short petiole. Their margin is entire or delicately dentate. The leaves of young seedlings are hairy (hirsute) and their margin is dentate.
The flowers are arranged in sparse racemes, with numerous flowers. The flower is small (with a diameter of 8 mm). The calyx is short, green, and divided into lobes. The corolla is white to beige, and has the shape of a swollen jar (urceolate) which hangs with the opening facing downwards. Its lobes are fused almost along their entire length.
The fruit has the shape of a red sphere with a diameter of 1 cm. Its surface is uniformly tuberculate. When ripe it is tasty, even though it is full of hard seeds. The sign of a ripe fruit is that its red color turns almost black, and it becomes soft. A non-ripe fruit is astringent, and dries the mouth.
Arbutus andrachne can hybridize naturally with Arbutus unedo (Strawberry tree) which results in Arbutus x andrachnoides.
Biology: The tree grows in anaerobic (with poor aeration) acidic soils, by symbiosis with fungi that grow within the root tissue and send their hyphae into the soil around them. This type of symbiosis is called mycorrhiza, which is a combination of the words fungus and root. In soils in which these plants grow there is little degradation of organic material and the nutrients required by the plants, i.e. nitrogen, phosphorous, zinc, etc. are bound within insoluble organic compounds which the plants are unable to utilize. The fungus secretes enzymes into the soil which degrade these compounds and release the nitrogen and other nutrients near the roots. The fungal hyphae absorb these nutrients and transfer them to the roots of the plant. The fungus thus enables the normal nutrition of the plant. The literature also mentions the possibility that the fungi degrade toxic materials that are found in these soils which inhibit the growth of roots. Arbutus andrachne blooms in spring, in March and April. The fruit ripens in the autumn.
Habitat: Dry soils, acid or neutral soils, on limestone rocks, in pine forests.
Distribution: Eastern Mediterranean, specially in Greece and Turkey, but also Middle East and South Western Asia.
Mike Livne, Wild Flowers of Israel