Pacific Madrone: A Northwest Mainstay

Thursday, July 15, 2021

This madrone is at least 100 years old.
Photo by Melody Fosmore
By Kathy Kaye
Save Shoreline Trees Advisory Board Member

The Pacific madrone holds a special place in the Northwest, both as a symbol of our unique environment and as a sacred living entity among our region’s Indigenous peoples. 

One document tells of the Saanich people on Vancouver Island who, during the Great Flood, tied their canoe to a Pacific madrone on the top of Mount Newton. 

In Oregon, Native American tribes used the tree’s berries as food and as fishing bait, and also for medicinal purposes (for colds and upset stomachs).

One of the oldest and best examples of Pacific madrone in Shoreline resides in Richmond Beach, on 20th Ave NW, the road leading into the Saltwater Park. 

This tree is at least 100 years old. It is not uncommon for Pacific madrones to live to 400, and many are 200-to-250 years. They can reach heights of 80 to 125 feet and diameters of 24 to 48 inches.

The orange-red bark seems to glow in the sunshine
Photo by Melody Fosmore

Distinct characteristics


The Pacific madrone is a broadleaved evergreen whose range extends from San Diego to eastern Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii), also called madroña or madroño, is the largest flowering tree in the Ericaceae (heath) family, which includes rhododendrons, blueberries and cranberries. 

It is known for its smooth trunk, orange deciduous bark, white flowers and red berries. (The Latin name Arbutus translates as ‘strawberry,’ according to Washington State University.) Its flowers and berries attract honey bees and birds, especially band-tailed pigeons and quail, and is home for many types of wildlife.

Madrones typically lean
Photo by Melody Fosmore 
Climate change


While Pacific madrone handles drought somewhat well — because of its deep, expansive root system—there is evidence that the species is endangered and that its range is shrinking. Climate forecasting models show Pacific madrones may disappear completely from the west coast by 2090 (https://ppo.puyallup.wsu.edu/madrone/about). 

Both temperature and precipitation are expected to increase over the coming years in the Pacific Northwest, changes that can bring insect infestation, (wood-boring beetles), fungi proliferation (leaf spot, leaf blight, stem and branch cankers), root disease, shoot and branch dieback, etc. Climate change is a major concern not just for Pacific madrones in our area but for all hardwood trees.

Register your tree with WSU

In response to these concerns, Washington State University (WSU) is conducting a crowd-sourced data collection effort to improve our understanding of the distribution and condition of our region's Madrones.

Using just your smartphone and a simple guide, you can help with these efforts.

Peeling bark is typical of madrones
Photo by Melody Fosmore
Tree care


If you are lucky enough to have a Pacific madrone in your yard, there are several ways to keep your tree healthy.
  • Schedule regular maintenance by a certified tree service/arborist. Regular visits can help identify problems early.
  • Ensure that the ground under the crown is not compacted, which can damage roots. A tree service can aerate the ground to improve soil health and promote root function.
  • Refrain from irrigating, unless advised by an arborist, as these trees are susceptible to root rot from heavy precipitation and irrigation. Pacific madrones do best in dry, rocky soil that is well drained.
  • As with any trees, keep compost/mulch away from the trunk and bark, which can retain moisture and cause disease.
  • Call a tree service if leaves change color or drop early, as these are signs of stress in trees.
Good news!

You can grow a Pacific madrone seedling in your yard or in a pot. For more information, contact your local nursery. Or visit https://ppo.puyallup.wsu.edu/madrone/about/propagation/.



2 comments:

Unknown July 15, 2021 at 4:47 PM  

Behind our Richmond Beach home is a treasured solitary madrone that must reach 80-90 feet. It grows in our 1/2 acre small forest and has had to compete with firs and maples for its light. Many of its offspring now grow nearby. bob hauck, richmond beach

Anonymous,  July 16, 2021 at 7:46 AM  

A very thoughtful article on the iconic Pacific Madrone. Where they occur in Shoreline, special attention should be given to this wondrous tree to protect them from destruction by developers and/or property owners and especially the seriously lax tree codes in place now from the City of Shoreline. Not long ago an over 100-year-old healthy Pacific Madrone tree was lost to the Shoreline community by illegal cutting because of these lax tree codes and very lax city oversight. Due to ongoing climate change one day trees will have more value for their protective shade and habitat enhancement then the value placed on a view of the Puget Sound.

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