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Wood of the month: Pacific madrone.

WOOD OF THE MONTH

Pacific madrone: The other West Coast "red" wood.

The most famous red wood of the Pacific United States is, of course, the majestic redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). But another impressive red-toned wood from the West Coast is Pacific madrone. Its range is the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to central California.

Pacific madrone is a member of the Ericaceae or Heath Family. It goes by a variety of names including the Spanish madrono, jarrito, and mansanita, as well as the English terms madrona, laurel, strawberry tree and arbutus.

Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii) sometimes yields a beautifully figured, light reddish-brown wood called madrone burl from the large burls that grow on some trees. Madrone burl is very popular for inlay work and furniture.

Pacific madrone or madrona, its other common name, has a popular use aside from its commercial lumber and veneer uses. Madrona charcoal is used to make gunpowder and is considered the best source for this use.

Pacific madrone packs a "punch" of another sort, too. Its fruit is described by Richard J. Preston, Jr. in "North American Trees," as "a globose, orange, semi-fleshy, glandular-coated drupaceous berry one-third to one-half inch long." Once fermented, it will cause inebriation in the birds which eat it.

Appetites aside, it is a very pretty wood with beautiful color and expression, said Ekke Hoppe, of M. Bohlke Veneer Corp., Fairfield, Ohio. While it is often compared to the apple tree wood, Hoppe prefers to compare it with laurel. He added that he sees a lot of requests for the madrone burl, which he said is very striking and rare.

Per Kalstrup, executive vice president, the David R. Webb Co., Edinburgh, Ind., said usage and supplies of madrone "are pretty limited compared to other woods. It is not a major species." His company currently has in stock some 22,000 square feet of madrone burl veneer. The most common use for this would be architectural.

"It would be specified for the top of a conference table, for example," said Kalstrup. "It has a pink or reddish color and is an attractive wood but its use is limited. We get calls for it from time to time."

In addition to architectural uses such as paneling, madrone is used for high-end furniture, interior fittings and cabinetry. Another common use is specialty items. Madrone is a good wood to use for turned items, such as bowls and lamp bases.

Reaching to the sun

Pacific madrone, a hardwood, has an irregular growth-ring pattern. The wood is a pale reddish-brown, sometimes referred to as strawberry-colored, and is reminiscent of apple wood. The grain varies from straight to irregular with a smooth and even texture. The size and weight of the tree varies greatly according to growth conditions, i.e., the soil content and amount of sunlight received. A tree growing in the open sunlight will have wide spreading limbs while a tree found in a dense forest will grow tall, with a crown open to catch the sunlight.

Some massive-sized madrone trees have limb spans of 9,000 square feet and stand as tall as redwoods while other Pacific madrone trees are the height of a small bush. Some of the smaller varieties are shrub-like in stature, with urn-shaped flowers and leather-like evergreen leaves. Those trees suitable for lumber uses can grow to 100 feet with diameters of 5 to 7 feet. Average heights can range from 20 to 100 feet, with 1- to 4-foot diameters. The weight for lumber trees averages from 44 to 48 pounds per cubic foot.

Madrone is a hard wood to season and requires much care or the wood will warp and check. Experts recommend slow air drying prior to kiln drying. When properly seasoned and dried the wood is stable with very little movement in service.

Working with madrone can present some problems due to the hardness of the wood. Like other hardwoods it has a blunting effect on cutting tools. However, it does finish well.

Madrone is a non-durable wood susceptible to the common furniture beetle. It is resistant to preservative treatment.

Family tree

Madrones are the tallest members of the Heath Family, which includes such diverse relatives as heathers, rhododendrons, azaleas, sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), farkelberry and manzanitas. The tallest of the madrones is Pacific madrone.

The madrone flower is white, arranged in terminal panicles. Pacific madrone has a distinctive bark, red-brown in color and separating into papery scales, revealing a light-red inner bark and peeling into irregular sections. Large trees characteristically have scaly bark at their base.

Arbutus texana is Texas madrone. Texas madrones grow in Texas and New Mexico and differ from Pacific madrones in that their leaves are smaller. Texas madrones are usually shorter than the Pacific variety, averaging 50 feet tall. But their wood is similar in looks to Pacific madrone.

Arbutus arizonica or Arizona madrone, shares some of the same growth area of New Mexico and Arizona. It resembles Texas madrone in size, flowers and fruit, however the leaves are smaller and it is distinguished by a gray bark.

Other madrone trees of the same genus found in Europe include Arbutus unedo, Arbutus crispo, Arbutus salicifolia, Arbutus serratifolia, and Arbutus vulgaris.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Kaiser, Jo-Ann
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Words:867
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