Visitors to Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation headquarters in San Martin, California are struck by the beauty of the large tree in the entrance patio. It’s an Arbutus ‘Marina’, with lush dark green leaves and striking cinnamon-colored bark.
This tree is one of the Foundation’s most popular introductions and-like many-has an interesting history.
The exact origins of Arbutus’Marina’ are unknown, but people think it probably arrived in San Francisco for the 1917 Exposition as part of a large consignment of plants from Europe.
An early San Francisco nurseryman, Charles Abrahams, propagated a few from the original tree at his nursery in San Francisco’s Marina district. Later, another local nurseryman, Victor Reiter, propagated stock from Abraham’s trees. (The largest known specimen of Arbutus ‘Marina’ still grows in Reiter’s San Francisco garden.)
The Foundation began evaluating cuttings from Reiter’s tree over 15 years ago. At its 1984 introduction to the market, they named it Arbutus ‘Marina’ in honor of Abrahams and his nursery in the Marina.
Arbutus ‘Marina’ is similar to the widely-used strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) but many think it’s a superior tree.
First, there’s the gorgeous bark that improves as the tree grows and ages. It’s reminiscent of the madrone tree grown in the Pacific Northwest (which doesn’t do well here).
Second, while Arbutus ‘Marina’ also has attractive flowers and fruit, there are less than on the strawberry tree. This makes it a neater tree to care for in the garden.
A. ‘Marina’ is evergreen and fast growing when young, slowing to moderate growth as it ages. It attracts hummingbirds, is frost hardy, does well in full sun or coastal fog and has low to moderate water requirements. You can prune it when young to take many forms, using it as a large shrub, or as either a multi-stemmed or single stemmed tree. Its flowers are rosy pink. Fruit and flowers are both larger and less numerous than those of the strawberry tree.