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‘Strawberry tree’ helps woods recover after fire, French experts claim

Its deep roots allow it to recover quickly after a fire and stop soil erosion

Called the strawberry tree due to its red fruits, it is actually more like a lychee Pic: HJBC / Shutterstock

Forestry experts are showing new interest in the humble arbousier (arbutus) shrub, which grows in some woods and forests at risk from fires. 

The shiny-leafed shrub is native to Mediterranean areas but has spread across Europe, including to the UK, where it is called a strawberry tree due to its red fruits. 

They actually look more like lychees, and they have a sweet but rather bland taste. 

The interest is because it is one of the first shrubs to recover from forest fires due to deep, extensive roots. 

These roots, and the fact that its leaves and stems soon flourish again after fires, help stop erosion of the bare land. 

Arbutus shoots are already well established in some Gironde areas where massive forest fires burnt in the summer. 

The Parc Naturel régional de la Sainte-Baume in Var has completed a two-year project on the shrub with the aim of showing forest owners its value. 

The EU-funded project has highlighted the plant’s regenerative value after fires, its importance in boosting biodiversity and also revenue possibilities from harvesting the fruit to make jams and liqueurs, as well as the value of its fine-grained wood for carving.

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