JUST ONE: The Pacific Madrone

Photographers are familiar with the dilemma of too many photographs. We accumulate vast numbers of images, and then how do we find say, the best photographs of our home, or any particular subject? Lightroom users have a quick way to sort through endless images. First, type a keyword in the search box. If you’ve been reasonably disciplined about keywording your photos when you load them into Lightroom, you’ll see every photograph you have that features the particular subject you’re searching for. Then if you filter the results by star rating you’ll narrow it down to the best ones. Hopefully, you rated each photo as you added it to Lightroom. Everyone has their own method for assigning star ratings; mine is to initially give photos two stars (the range is one to five). When I review them one by one, I delete any photos I have no use for and assign an extra star to the ones I want to be sure to get back to later.

Why am I telling you all this? To make the point that I have accumulated far too many “good” photos of a certain subject – the Pacific Madrone tree. In fact, I have over 240 3 – 5 star photos of Madrones, and over 100 more I’m saving “just in case.”

It’s a photogenic tree.

1. A large specimen leans over the beach at Kukatali Preserve. July
2. Madrones on the rocks; Sharpe Park, Fidalgo Island. January.
3. Madrone sentinels; Washington Park, Fidalgo Island. December.
4. Madrone bark and eelgrass on the beach; Larabee State Park. August.

The Pacific Madrone tree (Arbutus menziesii) has been a constant companion on my walks since I moved to Fidalgo Island. They like it here (me too). The west coast native ranges from coastal southwestern British Columbia to San Diego County, California, and there are places within that range where it does especially well – typically an open situation with good light and fast drainage.

When I lived in New York I had no knowledge of Madrone trees. Then I moved to the Seattle area, and seeing them was an occasional treat. Their striking red-orange bark and flowing growth habit always distracted me from the road as I drove around Seattle. Now I live in an environment where this tree seems quite comfortable. The beautiful colors and growth habit of Madrones is a frequent sight on the trails I wander along. They seem particularly plentiful close to the water, in the thin soil that covers our south and west-facing cliffs and bluffs.

5. Leaning over the water; Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass State Park. March.
6. Reaching for light; Lighthouse Point. March.
7. Into the light; Rosario Head, Deception Pass State Park. August.
8. Madrone leaf wrack line; Kukatali Preserve. June.
9. One floating Madrone leaf; Rosario Bay. August.
10. Clinging to rocks at Lighthouse Point. June, using a Vintage super Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens with adapter.

The distinctive peeling bark of these lovely beings shreds off in layers, revealing a lime-green or chartreuse base that is cool to the touch even on a hot day, giving them the nickname “Refrigerator trees.” The bark peels off each summer in big patches and delicate little curls, once the fruit begins to ripen. It falls to the ground and mingles with last year’s yellowed leaves, which are also shed in summer, after the new sets of evergreen leaves get their start. The curvy branches, dark green leaves and exfoliating bark present endless photographic opportunities.

11. Layers of peeling bark on Madrone; Washington Park, Fidalgo Island. July.

12. Young peeling branch; Little Cranberry Lake, Fidalgo Island. July.
13. Peeling madrone branch. Little Cranberry Lake. August, using a Vintage super Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens with adapter.

14. Distant waters, bark peels; Lighthouse Point. March.
15. Peeling as it rains. The dark branch died after a fire. Rosario Head. August.

16. Patterns in the peel. Sharpe Park. January.

For those interested in the botanical and historical side of things, the name Arbutus relates to the Latin “arbor” – high plant, or tree. The genus Arbutus has only 12 species, which occur in both the Old and New World. They are all smallish trees or shrubs with red berries and peeling bark. The Arbutus genus is part of the Ericaceae (heath) family – a large family of plants that often grow on nutrient-poor sites. The species name, menziesii, is after Scottish surgeon and naturalist Archibald Menzies (1754 – 1842), who was a member of several important expeditions, including George Vancouver’s round the world HMS Discovery voyage. Friedrich Traugott Pursch, a German-born botanist who spent time tromping around the American woods with his dog and his gun to gather specimens (but didn’t travel far enough west to see the plant himself), named the Madrone tree for Menzies in his 1814 treatise, Flora Americae Septentrionalis; or, A systematic arrangement and description of the plants of North America. This work he accomplished while living in London, despite being “drunk morning, noon and night.” But that’s another story.

It seems we have to go back a little further to find the first written references to this tree – I believe it was Father Juan Crespi, a Spanish Franciscan missionary, who “discovered” the tree on an expedition to explore what would become the state of California. Father Juan kept a diary while on the Spanish Portola expedition in 1769-1770. He called the distinctive tree the madrono because it reminded him of the Mediterranean species, Arbutus unedo, a small evergreen tree that bears edible red fruits, a bit like strawberries in color and size. The Spanish call this tree “Madrono.” About twenty years later Archibald Menzies noticed Madrone trees when the HMS Discovery dropped anchor at Port Discovery (so named by Vancouver). That is about 25 miles as the crow flies from the park where many of my own Madrone tree photos were taken. We could call this part of Puget Sound the Madrone’s Happy Place.

17. Madrones leaning into the light. Deception Pass. September.

18. Fallen Madrone leaves on a bed of haircap moss, reindeer lichen and assorted detritus. Sharpe Park. January.
19. Venerable Madrone. Kukatali Preserve. January.

20. A gradual decline. Washington Park. August.

For a contemporary reference to Madrone trees try Tom Waits, who in his inimitable way instructs us to dig a big pit and fill it with madrone and bay for a special barbecue. (you can find that lyric in the video at around 1m 31s).

I’ve never used Madrone wood for a barbecue but I may consider making tea eggs with the bark some day. Or a medicinal tea for an upset stomach – supposedly that tastes like a cinnamon, mushroom and wood smoke mixture.

21. Gracefully dropped. Washington Park. August.

We’ve barely scratched the surface of this interesting tree, but that leaves more for next time, and having only used a handful of my steadily increasing store of Madrone photographs, I’ll have plenty of material for another post.


84 comments

    • Control alt delete, like deleting everything? That doesn’t make sense, with your photography, so I must not have understood. Anyway, everyone has their own system, or lack thereof, which is fine of course! Enjoy your weekend! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • I use Adobe Lightroom poorly…and yes I’ve lost everything at least twice now…but I have external drives…and i do delete a lot images…when I taught art I always told my students ‘not to fall in love with their work’…I know photographers who use Adobe Bridge…Photo Mechanic…but I’m not a photographer…altohugh I’m working harder to keep images organized πŸ€“ lots more to learn along the way for me ☺️ happy day to you too Lynn πŸ˜„πŸ’«

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  1. Your affection for your constant companion shines through – -this is a great write-up too, it feels like a biography. Gee, in the shots where the truck looks naked, you could almost believe it’s blood coursing just under the surface. Maybe it’s my affection for the imperfect and unexpected, but I love this creature’s rejection of the straight line, and the nice sinuous twisting of limbs and bark. I really like the discarded curls of bark, like some author was
    hard at work, tossing away his first draft. And hard not to give it a friendly scratch, I used to peel the loose bark from the sycamores, or London planetrees I guess, in front of my grandparents’ house. And around the Finger Lakes, lots of Shagbark Hickories, and the Cornell campus has river birches and paperbark maples. Terrific album of course, the second shot has a nice Middle Earth vibe, and so glad you included that cool shot of the leaf wrack line, you really have the eye.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I need you to throw these ideas around WHILE I’m wiring, not after. πŸ˜‰ The rejection of the straight line is quite clear with these trees, and I love it too. Love the idea of tossing the first draft. πŸ˜‰ I always liked Sycamore bark too – NYC streets have lots of them, I used to like seeing them glisten in the rain. River birch – yes, they are beautiful! Shagbark hickory – that makes me think of old unstate properties in the country, ahh. Thanks for noticing the mystic twist on the second photo – some selective removal of clarity and other tweaks went into that, to give it the atmospheric feeling that place has. The wrack line excited me – who would think one would be all leaves, and all one kind of leaf, but – of course! Thank you for riffing, thinking and playing, Robert, and happy weekend to you!

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  2. A problem indeed…you can only use a few at the time..the rest are for the computer!! I also think, when I am truly old and somewhat feeble I can sit by puter and sort them and use them without going out with my zimmer frame.

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    • I learn something every day…had to look up “zimmer frame” – so funny, Paula! (We just call them walkers over here). But don’t you think that soon someone will come up with an attachment to the zimmer frame that holds a camera right at eye level? Push buttons for it on the frame….and we’ll still be out there, unstoppable. πŸ™‚

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  3. Really beautiful series of shots, Lynn – I hope you won’t mind my saying this – but without a number on each title, so difficult to comment on individual shots, which is what I would like to do, though the wrack line really caught my eye and is easily referred to.

    Also, very interesting to hear how others use LR: I’ve never got into giving my pictures keywords or stars, I just have them stored in folders the names of which denote the location and the date, eg yesterday’s “!Levels 2019-08-23”. Adrian πŸ™‚

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    • OK, I numbered them! Was in a hurry yesterday. πŸ˜‰ Glad you enjoyed the photos and noticed the wrack line, which delighted me. I suppose there are as many ways to use LR as there are users. I tend to want to find images of certain subjects regularly, so this method works for me. I always use a keyword for the place, along with one or more additional words for the subject(s) or for something important to me – sometimes a theme, like your “People…” so I can easily look at all the photos with that theme. My folders are only arranged by date. Once we get used to a system, we like to stick with it, right? πŸ˜‰ (I saw you noticed Paula’s comment – see my reply, I think you’ll chuckle).

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  4. These Madrone trees are so photogenic and you always do a wonderful job get interesting images. We don’t have any in this area so your images seem somewhat exotic to me. My favorite shot (in this group) is #2. The light is outstanding in it. Nice work, Lynn.

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    • They look rather exotic over here too, surrounded by mostly needle-bearing evergreens. I’m thankful for them. You liked the light in #2, which was taken in January! Winter light can be dark but it’s beautiful, too, as you know. Thank you, Ken!

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    • That’s good to hear – I’m sure that you would do beautiful work with the Manzanitas. One thing that’s been fun about being around the Madrones is that the little Rein orchids I’ve just become acquainted with this year seem to cluster under and near Madrones. Must be something going on in the soil.

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  5. The inner “skin” of these trunks is so human that one simply feels like caressing. Beautiful details and photos!
    In Portugal arbutus unedo (in portuguese is β€œmedronheiro”) is common at the south and some regions of the center. And when I find them with ripe berries, some are quickly tasted!
    Here, is common to make spirits/brandy with this fruits.
    I confess, I never looked closely and with attention to their branches. I don’t know if they have any resemblance to that pacific madrone you described in this post.
    Thanks for sharing and I wish you a nice week!

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    • Your sensitivity to nature always shows. It really IS just like skin, and it feels so nice. You know a relative of this tree, that’s cool! I don’t seem to see many trees with berries. I think these ones do not taste good, but I think some parts of the tree are used medicinally. I tried to search A. unedo and it looks like they also have peeling bark – next time you will see it! I hope your week is going well. :=-)

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  6. I would offer that the post is something like a celebration of your favored tree…beautiful images that we can never really get enough of, because of the various settings, views, and presentations in which we behold them. Very nice, Lynn…it looks like a good tree-friend to have….

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    • Absolutely, a celebration, and there will be more Madrone parties. πŸ™‚ Thanks so much for the nice comment Scott. And to make it even better, a small native orchid I’ve just become familiar with often grows with the Madrones, as does another tree that is quite rare.

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  7. Madrones are such sensuous trees. No wonder you’ve gathered such an extensive collection.

    Alas! I’m not at all disciplined when it comes to sorting and tagging far too many shots of various favored subjects. Sadly I’ve been letting things get away from me lately. Perhaps when the rains come…. maybe?

    I very much enjoyed your celebration of the madrones.

    Liked by 1 person

      • How cool that you “get” the wrack line. That surprised me. Yes, sensuous they are – and they grow in the nicest places, on the bluffs overlooking the water. What I’ve found with the photo keywording is that I have to do it when I upload the photos – they can’t come off the card without at least the name of the place I took them and 2 stars being added, and you can quickly select them all so that takes only a second or two. But while you let certain things get away from you, I know they are replaced by other, more enjoyable things. πŸ˜‰

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  8. I especially like 4. and 5. this round. I too am captivated by these trees and get lost in capturing images of them whenever I have the pleasure of encountering them. I was just at Deception Pass this past weekend, and brought home a batch of images peppered with Madrone – or Arbutus, as my Vancouver, B.C. native mum called them. That seems to be the common name for them north of the US border. Lovely post, and thanks for your research on the name origin. You always uncover and share such interesting tidbits.

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    • #4 and #5 share a certain sinuousness, no? I hope the crowds weren’t too bad when you visited the pass – it can be insane on the weekend in the summer! Glad you saw the Madrones and were able to photograph them. And thanks for clarifying the Arbutus name because I hear them called that sometimes – now it makes sense – it’s those Canadians again! πŸ˜‰ So glad you enjoyed the post, Sheri, it was fun reading about the historical background and thinking about those early explorers. Have a good week!

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      • Crowded in some parts, like the bridge of course, but I knew where to take us to get away a little more. If you go out past the ancient Douglas Fir and then cut out to the beach you can walk along the shore with only a few others passing now and again. There are some fabulous driftwood installations there, including a couple ingenious benches in a raised area that my husband and I occupied for a good deal of quiet time and watched the water, seals, gulls, dogs and other humans…along with the clouds and tide. It was refreshingly tranquil with just a bit of a stroll in the less traveled by direction.

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      • This sounds like West Beach, right? Walking south towards where the houses start? It seems the driftwood installations are always changing and I haven’t been on that section in a while so I’ll get down there soon, thanks! Glad you enjoyed it – it feels like the sea, doesn’t it? Well, it almost is…

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  9. They’re possibly my favorite type of tree. (Ok, the redwoods are up there too.) Beyond their obvious beauty and character, I’m struck by how on the one hand they die simply if the drainage isn’t good or the air isn’t fresh, but on the other they can scrape out a life hanging off a cliff in thin rocky soil. (And it’s not unusual to see a bald eagle perched on top.)

    Lovely shots, as usual.

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    • The other tree I’ve come to love that’s plentiful here is a certain kind of juniper that grows mostly just on the islands. They used to think it was the same as the Rocky Mountain juniper but then “they” figured out it’s a separate species, the Maritime or Seaside juniper. It gets wonderfully twisted, weathered shapes as it ages. You’ll see a post about it before long and maybe you’ll notice them the next time you’re up here. You made a really good point about the Madrones – quite a few of them aren’t doing too well here, but then, they have picked a tough place and these are tough times. Cheers!

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  10. Fine portrait of a beautiful tree! I like the subtle softness of nr 14; and the hard colors of 15 and 16. I have been keywording shots when I started to use LR; but when I realized that I never used them to find shots, I stopped. I archive on location, followed by date and then the name(s) of the people I was with; and or the name of the event I visited. Hope that still works when I’m old and my memory has lost it’s vitality; but I most likely would have lost all my keywords as well then… πŸ˜ƒπŸ‘βœ‹

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    • The day I took #14 was a good one – it was beautiful light and I had fun – so I’m pleased that you singled that one out, Harrie. And for #15 I went out in the rain, which was nice until my cotton sweatshirt was soaked! I think the camera did better than I did. We all have our systems, and they will all fall apart eventually, along with us….happy thought, right? πŸ˜‰

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  11. A great post about this absolutely wonderful tree! I love the Arbutus too, but I never saw such a colourful one. I love the bark with its variations in color and “style”. They look a bit like leather, then like cinnamon or any other plantlike “skin”. I would love to touch it all the time πŸ™‚ Again a kind of “Handschmeichler”! The line of leaves on the coast is beautiful too. It looks almost like manmade landart. Nature can do it too right. How many pictures did you made? 100 hundred? I understand that very well. 2, 5, 11-16 and Nr 17 are my favourites. Nr. 2 looks so poetic again and Nr. 17 has a bit of a southern atmosphere. And I like the last one that looks a bit like a piece of a banana πŸ™‚ Interesting about the history and what you can made out of it!!

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    • I’m sure you’d love these trees and you would really appreciate seeing where they grow – right out of the rock sometimes. The bark is thin like paper, not at all like leather when it peels, but the bark on the tree that has not peeled is very smooth. You know you’re touching a living being. πŸ˜‰ Funny what you say about the line of leaves that washed up on the shoreline – I know just what you mean. The poetic look in #2 was something I exaggerated a little by reducing clarity in Lightroom. Thank you Almuth. πŸ™‚

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      • Out of the rock – really? So they are really rough trees then and need little to grow? Thin bark sounds great. I would love to write or paint on it or work with it if it is so soft. I just love any kind of bark and especially this smooth one. Next time I go to the Berggarten I will touch the Arbutus there and think of you, hihi πŸ™‚

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      • There must be a little bit of soil there, but sometimes they look like they are growing straight out of the rock. They are tough in a way, but they don’t grow in just any place – they want a particular kind of habitat, which I can’t quite describe. As for writing on the bark, I don’t know – it’s brittle too. I brought a large piece home and tried to flatten it but it didn’t want to stay flat, it wants to curl. It tears easily. It’s more delicate and fragile than birch bark. Thank you for thinking of me at the Berggarten – and maybe you can go back to that conservatory and take more pictures! πŸ˜‰

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  12. The Madrone’s Happy Place you call your region, and it seems to be the photographer’s happy place as well!
    I didn’t know these trees before I knew you, so they will always be named “Lynn’s trees” for me. You help getting familiar with the Madrones by your beautiful pictures.
    No.2 shows the bizarre ways the branches go in growth, but in combination with the moss and scattered dim light, the whole situation gets magic and the tree seems to stretch its arms to hold you.
    All the precious details, especially the rare colours you show in the wood, are so unbelievable, they make the impression of something moist and fresh and alive. Like human limbs almost, in some of the photos.
    What I overly admire is the peeling bark and how you stage it like three dimensional objects one could feel with the hands.
    Adorable!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, these trees really do seem to have arms that stretch out, welcoming me to this Happy Place. πŸ˜‰ The colors are not exaggerated – your take is accurate – even in the driest weather they are fully alive, never dull. You can understand why I have over 240 photos (the ones that are good enough to show) of these beauties. You will see more of them in the future! I’m glad you enjoyed this Ule, and hope you have a lovely weekend. πŸ™‚

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      • Of course I understand why you cannot stop photographing these beauties again and again! And I won’t get tired of looking at your beautiful pictures! Have a fine weekend too – if we’re lucky, we’ll have some first friendly autumnly days coming up.

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  13. Madrones are such beautiful trees. I had no knowledge of them aside from their use as veneers for cabinetwork. After seeing a few vlogs from the northwest, Adam Gibbs especially, and now all your various images of them, I hope to someday explore them myself. There are certain subjects that constantly appeal to us as photographers and this particular tree has so much to offer that you may never exhaust that interest. I hope you don’t and we get to see them often. πŸ™‚

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    • Veneers for cabinets – interesting, I didn’t know about that. I’m sure you’d have a great time photographing these trees and don’t worry, I already have lots more, and I’m not about to stop taking pictures of these beauties. Now I’ll check out that vlog…thank you for the comment and for the reference – yet another photographer I didn’t know about, and he’s from near here.

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    • I only used to see them once in a while, in Seattle and the suburbs, but they love these islands, so I see them a lot now – what a treat, right? I had fun with the peeling bark and a super wide-open aperture, and I will continue! The wrack line was a surprise – they’re usually made of lots of different things – so glad you enjoyed this, Jane, since you do know the tree well. Thank you! πŸ™‚

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      • Got it. Gibbs work is really interesting to me since he’s done a lot of work with familiar landscapes. I try not to spend too much time looking at other people’s work but this look was worth it to me. Thanks Steve!

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      • Glad you enjoyed it, Lynn. I don’t think I copy people, especially since their environments are usually different from mine. But there are a few photographers, Gibbs and Simon Baxter (check him out too) who work in woodlands so I take inspiration from them.

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      • Simon Baxter is a find! I like his attitude and the work is just gorgeous. This is refreshing: “I don’t obsess over the technicalities of photography; instead I crave atmosphere, experiences and unique moments in time that serve as a constant reminder that there is far more to landscape photography than a photograph.” Thanks so much Steve!

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      • You are welcome, Lynn. He is by far my favorite vlogger and it doesn’t hurt to have Meg in the videos. πŸ™‚ I also like his attitude and dedication to his local sites although his travels are enjoyable too. I am glad you will be following him. It’s always a treat to see a new post by him. πŸ™‚

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    • That second photo has a different look – less precise, more dreamy, the way the forest appears sometimes. Normally, I don’t like to go too far in that direction, but you and others mentioned that one so I’ll remember that. πŸ™‚ Thank you Alison – and yes, Arbutus in BC, beautiful by any and all names.

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