Feb 14 2014

Mystery Flora: Medieval Fruits

I’m continually surprised by plants in the Pacific Northwest. I shouldn’t be – I’ve been here for over half a decade now – but I’ll be out and about, not expecting much of anything to be doing anything of interest, and bam, in-my-face.

Mystery Flora I

Mystery Flora I

B and I had been scrambling over the beach at Richmond Beach, looking for a good bit of driftwood to use as a wizard’s staff, and we were climbing the endless stairs back up to the car when this bushes with enormous yellow, orange and red spiky berries appeared. I mean, yes, I’ve seen them before. We always park at the top and do the stairs for exercise. But this was the first time I’d seen them in October, and they were all dressed up.

Mystery Flora II

Mystery Flora II

Here were these clusters of flowers that looked like salal, but obviously not salal, and zomg wtf is up with those fruits?

Mystery Flora III

Mystery Flora III

Clusters, twins, singles, all over the place. And me being from a place where an apple growing on a tree seems rather exotic, seeing these bizarro fruits brings me up short. Luckily, they were growing near some exercise equipment, so B got to see if he could beat his brother in the pull-up department while I got busy with the camera.

Mystery Flora IV

Mystery Flora IV

I wonder what evolutionary pressure or urging prompted these things to grow little protrusions all over? And they’re pretty hard, too, not squidgy. I swear, they seem like you could tie them to the end of a stick and beat people to death. I wonder if they were the inspiration for the mace?

Mystery Flora V

Mystery Flora V

You could even look at them and think of the surface of the sun, with its flares and prominences and spots.

Mystery Flora VI

Mystery Flora VI

And, of course, the instant I saw them, I thought of you lot. I even remembered to take pictures that show the plant in more context.

Mystery Flora VII

Mystery Flora VII

So there you see a branch with all the flowers and fruits and bits, and below, we have the whole bush with ah shtick.

Mystery Flora VIII

Mystery Flora VIII

The stick, which did not become a staff, alas, appears to be madrona. I’ll give you a hint: there are cousins in this photo. Oh, and the weird gray things poking up over the bush at left are the sails from a play ship for the kiddies. It’s one of those awesome sorts of parks where everybody’s got something to look forward to, including the botanists.

Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day, for them as cares.


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  1. 1

    Arbutus unedo, the strawberry tree?

  2. 2

    They look like lychee fruit but the flowers are all wrong.
    Going to second the strawberry tree, as the flowers match up, and so do the fruit!

  3. 3
    Lithified Detritus

    I wasn’t familiar with this one, but it is apparently non-native.

    1. 3.1

      Sadly, I believe you’re right.

    2. 3.2
      Ubi Dubium

      There’s a variety that’s native to the Pacific Northwest, called “madrona” or “bearberry”. It’s apparently edible, but not tasty. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arbutus_menziesii

      1. rq

        Innteresting! So Dana’s walking stick is cousin to the photographable fruit.
        What I like best is that the flowers on both remind me of lily-of-the-valley, they have that same thick, waxy looking texture to them. They probably smell lovely, too.

  4. 4

    Arbutus Unedo, flowers look for all the world like a larger version of the Manzanita, which I believe is to the right in the final photo.

    1. 4.1


      I’m from a much more arid part of the PNW and am used to seeing madrone in tree form, with thick trunks reaching dozens of feet tall. I cannot recall ever having seen one as a shrub!

  5. 5
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Cheers for this – great photos & fascinating fruit.

    Reminds me of rambutans.

  6. 6

    Well, this explains something that had puzzled me. I have a young relative in Ireland named “Caine”. His parents are Christians and I thought at first they’d done the usual clueless thing and named him something random out of the Bible, but the father told me it was a traditional Irish name and shrugged when I asked him what it meant. It must actually be “Caithne”, one of the Irish names of this tree.

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