Skip to Content

What is a Strawberry Tree & is the Fruit Edible?

If you have spotted a bush along the River Wandle trail with white flowers and red berries, it’s probably a Strawberry tree! There are several strawberry trees along the river Wandle, and an especially large one in Ravensbury Park. This post has information about what a strawberry tree is, and whether the fruit is edible.

what is a strawberry tree
A strawberry tree. Photograph by Olivia Herlihy

What is a Strawberry Tree?

A Strawberry Tree (Arbutus Unedo) is an evergreen tree that is native to the Mediterranean region and western Europe. It got its name because of its red fruits, that look like strawberries.

The tree produces bright red fruits in the autumn, and white urn shaped flowers around November time. The photographs above and below were both taken in October.

Strawberry tree
A strawberry tree. Photograph by Olivia Herlihy

The Strawberry Tree is also known as the Arbute Tree, the Irish Strawberry Tree, Western Strawberry Tree, and the Arbutus Tree. Due to the large numbers of the tree in Killarney, Ireland, it is also sometimes called the Killarney Strawberry Tree.

Even though the Strawberry Tree produces fruits that look like strawberries, it is not related to the strawberry plant in any way.

Can You Eat Strawberry Tree Fruit?

The fruits from the strawberry tree are edible, but have a gritty texture and not much flavour. For this reason they are usually used to make jams, fruit yoghurts, and alcoholic beverages, rather than eaten individually.

The tree’s Latin name, Arbutus Unedo, was derived from the Latin “unum edo” which means “I eat one”. The phrase referred to the lack of flavour the fruit has, and suggests that anyone who tried it, would not eat more than one.

How do you Know When a Strawberry Tree is Ripe?

The ripe fruits are a bright red colour and slightly soft. Mature fruit should be picked in the late autumn before it falls from the tree.

What’s the Difference Between a Strawberry Tree and Lychee?

The fruits of the strawberry tree look similar to lychee fruit, which are also red and spiky, but the two are completely different plants. Lychee trees are also not found in the UK, as they only grow in warm, humid climates.

The table below details some basic differences between the different trees.

Strawberry Tree

Lychee Tree
Latin Name Arbutus Unedo Litchi Chinensis
Family Ericaceae Sapindaceae
Genus Arbutus Litchi
Found in UK Yes No
Native to Mediterranean,
Western Europe
Southern China
Height 15-20 feet 20-30 feet
Bloom Time October to December April to May
Bloom Colour White / pinkish white Yellow
Flower Scent Honey scent Citrus scent
Leaf Evergreen Evergreen
Strawberry tree
The fruit of a Strawberry Tree

How Tall Will a Strawberry Tree Grow?

Strawberry Trees grow to between 15-20 feet tall, and spread 10 feet or more.

Are Strawberry Tree Roots Invasive?

Roots are considered to be invasive if they come into contact with structures like walls, buildings, and paths. In these cases they can cause cracks in concrete or walls, and buckling on floors.

Since Strawberry Trees have surface roots they are not normally a problem. This is why they are a popular plant for a back garden since their roots usually don’t damage or cut through foundations.

Strawberry tree
The fruit of a Strawberry Tree

What Birds do they Attract?

Strawberry Trees attract a variety of birds because of their bright fruit, and nectar filled flowers. Some birds that are especially drawn to the high sugar content of strawberry tree fruits are robins, thrush, cedar waxwings and starlings.

Strawberry tree
The fruit of a Strawberry Tree

Growing Your Own Strawberry Trees

If you want to try growing a strawberry tree at home you should plant them in October, or between March to May. These trees do not like chalky soil, and prefer acidic environments, so be sure to plant them in acidic soil.

Strawberry Trees also like to be placed in full sun, and sheltered from cold winds. The young plants should be protected in the winter, as they can’t withstand the cold until they are established.

How to Grow a Strawberry Tree

Instructions for growing from seed:

  • Sow seeds when ripe (usually in March)
  • Use pans of 2 parts peat, and 1 part sand
  • Place the pans in a cold frame
  • Prick off the seedlings when they are large enough to handle into 3 inch pots of potting compost
  • Grow in a cold frame for 1-2 years (potting on as necessary)
  • Transplant the young plants to their permanent positions from March-May

Instructions for growing from a cutting:

  • Take heel cuttings of half ripened wood in July (3-4 inches long)
  • Put the cuttings into equal parts of peat and sand
  • Place in propagating frame at a bottom heat of 16-18°C
  • When rooted, treat the cuttings as described for seedlings.


Are Strawberry trees poisonous to dogs?

No, strawberry trees are not toxic to dogs.

Are strawberry trees messy?

Yes, strawberry trees are messy. Their leaves fall continuously throughout the year. The fruit and flowers also appear at the same time, because the fruit takes a year to ripen. When this year’s flowers appear, last year’s fruit are only just ripening. This means ripe fruit and blossom falls from the tree at the same time in winter.

Interesting Facts

  • The fresh fruits of the Strawberry Tree are a good source of Vitamin C.
  • In folk medicine, the tree was used as an antiseptic, and to treat urinary infections such as cystitis and urethritis.
  • The wood from the plant can be used to make tools.
  • The honey produced from Strawberry Trees is known as bitter honey.
  • The tree was considered to be a symbol of good luck by the ancient Romans.
  • The plant is the national tree of Italy because its red fruits, white flowers, and green leaves resemble the colours of the Italian flag.
Strawberry tree
The fruit of a Strawberry Tree

Have You Spotted Any Interesting Plants by the River Wandle?

Thank you for reading my post about strawberry trees. If you have spotted any interesting or usual plants by the river Wandle, please leave me a comment below.