The tree is native to the Cork, Kerry and Sligo counties of Ireland, as well as Portugal, Spain, Morocco, France, Greece and the Mediterranean Coast to Lebanon and Israel. It belongs to the Heather family, Ericaceae, and its 6mm pitcher shaped flowers are very reminiscent of heather itself. Strangely for a plant of the acid loving Heather family, the Strawberry tree will tolerate lime in the soil and in parts of Ireland it grows on almost bare limestone rock.
The flowers are a translucent creamy white, often tinged pink as in the photograph, hanging in panicles of 10 to 30, subtly cloaking the trees in autumn. A deeper pink cultivar 'Rubra' has been cultivated since it was found growing wild in Ireland in 1835.
Strawberry trees have healthy glossy leaves that seem to suffer little from insect or other attack. The tree forms a dense rounded crown and tolerates salt well, making it useful in exposed coastal locations. It can grow to about 30 feet in height. The tree hybridises naturally with the Grecian or Cypress Strawberry Tree (Arbutus andrachne) where their ranges overlap and the resulting Hybrid Strawberry tree (Arbutus x andrachnoides) has inherited a degree of hardiness that the Grecian form lacks. This is fortunate as it will grow well here in sheltered locations and has an outstanding decorative bark.
Arbutus will tolerate most soil but avoid wet sites. They reportedly do not transplant well so use container grown plants whenever possible.