Strawberry Trees in Friars Cliff

 In Environment, Gardening

Strawberry trees in Friars Cliff sounds rather like a fantasy, yet it’s true. They are fruiting now and this is the best time to identify them. The fruits tend to drop onto the path and they can be messy. One tree hangs its branches over a garden fence on the left as Hynesbury Road joins Seaway Avenue. Another, more part of a hedge, can be seen on the left where Southcliffe Road joins Bure Lane. There are others, including a wild one on the undercliff path at Highcliffe.

Arbutus unedo

This is the Latin name for this plant, well known in the Mediterranean and particularly Portugal. There is debate about whether the tree is native to Britain. It is certainly native to Southern Ireland. It has attractive flowers and fruits, together, at this time of year. For most of the year, the dark evergreen leaves tend to blend into surrounding foliage. Also, in Friars Cliff, there are many evergreen Holm oaks, which look similar. Unlike the Holm oak, strawberry trees only grow to about 5 metres. They need well drained soil and the Friars Cliff heathland soil is ideal. I first knew these trees as a spotty, 15 year old gardener in Shrewsbury. They grew well in Shropshire but then succumbed to the heavy frosts in the 1960’s.

Can you consume them?

The answer is yes, but only when ripe. The fruit can vary between insipid and very sweet. There is a recipe here for a crumble cake, from Australia. The use of the fruits to make a potent drink is very interesting, hence my first link to in this post. The drink will have followed the tree wherever it went.

Beaker boozers

There is some evidence that the Beaker People, who were closely associated with Stonehenge, had an alcoholic drink, a ‘brandy’. Oddly enough, the shape of their beaker is similar to the shape of the Strawberry Tree flower. These people must have known of the farmers who built Newgrange, Ireland’s earlier equivalent of Stonehenge. Was Ireland the location of Neolithic Strawberry Tree brandy. If so, did they introduce it to Beaker People on this island? Indeed, as my link suggests, did the later Romans send mercenaries to Ireland to destroy all the Strawberry Trees and kill the brandy trade?

Strawberry Trees in Friars Cliff

Isn’t it amazing to be able to link a small garden tree in Friars Cliff to the beginning of our alcoholic history some 5,000 years ago. The Strawberry Tree recipe even links us to Australia, where we sent the Tolpuddle Martyrs. That is the measure of Dorset, a key place in the world but not necessarily for the right reasons!

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