Madrona (Arbutus menziesii)

West of Canada House Map

Informal poles of sailors repeatedly show that their greatest delight while traversing the San Juan Islands is the sight of the reddish, peel-barked madrona leaning gracefully over the rocky coastline. (All sailors are tree-lovers, of course). The WWU madrona leans gracefully over the Garden Street Bypass, west of Canada House. Canada House (more generally known as the Faculty Club, especially on Friday afternoons) was once the home of WWU presidents. Traffic problems required that High Street through the campus be closed during week-days, and so it became necessary to carve an alternative route - through the President's garden - from Garden Street to Highland Avenue, to serve hill-dwellers to the south of campus. Our presidents have since re-located to more splendid digs with less traffic noise. This madrona, the nearby hawthorn, and an effite white pine are remnants of the dismembered garden.

Arbutus menziesii is a coastal tree with a natural range extending from southern British Columbia into central California. It is little planted elsewhere (not from want of trying; it simply does not thrive outside its native range). However, on a limited scale it has been grown successfully in Britain since the early 19th century. Its Latin name commemorates Archibald Menzies, Scottish physician and naturalist, who accompanied George Vancouver on his voyage of discovery in the Pacific Northwest. The species name for the Douglas fir also honors this early botanist.

The largest madrona known is located in Humbolt County, California. It is 96 ft. tall and 36 ft. in circumference. An unusually pleasing madrona with striking coloration grows near the lighthouse in Lime Kiln State Park, San Juan Island. Perhaps fumes from the lime-making process account for its unique appearance. It is worth a special trip.