Madrones are trees which grow from the roots of another tree. They have been used in Native American culture since prehistoric times. Today they are widely planted all over the world and their popularity continues to increase due to their adaptability and ease of care. However, it is not uncommon for them to become invasive weeds or even completely die out if left unchecked.
The most common type of madrones are those grown from the roots of ash trees (Fraxinus excelsa). These trees are native to North America and Asia.
Ash trees produce large, dense branches with many small leaves called “madronas” which can reach lengths up to 10 feet long. The branches often bear clusters of tiny white flowers known as “madrone”. Most people think that these flowers represent the berries but actually they contain seeds rather than fruit.
In Europe, oak trees (Quercus robur) are the most commonly grown madrones. Oak trees produce smaller, rounder and less branched branches with fewer leaves called “madronsas”.
Oak tree madronas may reach lengths of 3 feet. The bark of these madronas is very tough and resistant to insect attack so they make excellent shade structures. Many people believe that oak madrones symbolize oak trees themselves.
Although madrones of all kinds grow well in most soil types they usually require full or partial sun to thrive. It is important to plant them in soil with adequate moisture, otherwise they will not survive.
While madrones are slow growing trees, it is still best to prune them regularly to help them grow stronger. Pruning can be done at any time of the year, however, it should always be done when the tree is dormant.
In the spring and summer months it is important to water the tree thoroughly before and after pruning. Pruning can be done at any time of the year, although it is best to wait until late fall or winter when the tree is fully dormant. Make sure that you wear protective clothing to avoid cuts and scrapes from the madrona’s thick, stiff leaves.
Pruning can be used for a variety of tree maintenance purposes such as:
Removing dead, diseased, dying or damaged branches
Removing branches that are growing in the “wrong direction” such as those that are growing toward the center of the tree
Removing branches that are growing too long or in a tangled mess
Removing branches to promote bushiness or to create a desired shape
One of the biggest maintenance jobs is periodic crown lifting. Crown lifting is essentially raising the height at which the branches are attached to the trunk.
Madrones grow characteristically in a “bucket handle” formation, meaning that the branches spread out and then curve upwards at the ends. If left unattended, the bottom side of the tree will often touch the ground, leaving no room for people or animals to walk underneath. Raising the crown of the tree involves periodically cutting the branch attachment at the trunk, lifting it to the desired height and then binding it in place with rope or wire. Rope is preferred since it will rot away within a few years, however it is recommended that you use wire instead since rope can sometimes become entangled in branches, causing damage.
For a “containerized” madrone, the branches should be lifted to a height of 5-6 feet. For a single, rangy tree it should be lifted to a height of 8-10 feet.
Most people choose to lift their trees once they reach a height of 6-8 feet although this is not absolutely necessary. Lifting the tree before this height may cause excessive backbending and will certainly cause the tree to lose its natural, desirable shape. Lifting the tree once it has grown this tall will result in a stiff, unnatural appearance.
Once your madrone tree is fully grown it should look similar to the trees in the photos below. Madrone trees can tolerate almost any kind of soil as long as they are planted in a sunny area.
They also have a very nice, pleasing shape and texture. Truly a beautiful tree!
Floating Leaves (Aquatic leaves)
All madrone leaves float on the water’s surface. While many plants have this ability, the madrone is the only tree whose leaves exhibit this behavior.
The leaves are thick, usually oval-shaped and have smooth edge (unlike most leaves which tend to have jagged edges).
While most madrone leaves will float on the surface of water, the leaf stems are not completely submerged; they curve downward before reaching the water’s surface.
The leaves themselves are light green on the top and lighter green on the bottom. They turn yellow, red and orange in the fall, much like other trees.
The leaves are also susceptible to many of the common insect and disease problems that effect othe trees such as scale, mites, and fungus.
Madrones are usually short-lived and do not normally attain great age due to their weak wood and poor root systems. The oldest known madrone is only about 1,000 years old.
This tree is located in a Redwood State Park in Northern California. The tree is over 100 feet around and over 300 feet tall! Most redwoods are over 1,000 years old, which makes them some of the oldest, largest trees in the world.
This concludes our report on the beautiful madrone tree. We hope you have enjoyed learning about this fascinating plant.
Sources & references used in this article:
Varying densities of Pacific madrone in a young stand in Oregon alter soil water-potential, plant moisture stress, and growth of Douglas fir by RJ Pabst, JC Tappeiner II, M Newton – Forest Ecology and Management, 1990 – Elsevier
Fusicoccum arbuti sp. nov. causing cankers on Pacific madrone in western North America with notes on Fusicoccum dimidiatum, the correct name for Scytalidium dimidiatum … by DF Farr, M Elliott, AY Rossman, RL Edmonds – Mycologia, 2005 – Taylor & Francis
Narrative medicine: The use of history and story in the healing process by L Mehl-Madrona – 2007 – books.google.com