Douglas Justice, Curator of Collections, at UBC Botanical Garden contributed today’s BPotD entry.
On a recent trip to China with a group of westerners, we came upon these fruits, and initially assumed they were from Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree). Indeed, a number of us had seen tinned versions of these fruits labeled “arbustes,” a name that looks a lot like Arbutus, but is, of course, “shrub” in French. Complicating matters—or perhaps the origin of this confusion—is the common name Chinese strawberry tree. Why tinned fruit from China would be labeled with a French name is another matter. It’s uncanny (pardon the pun) that these two fruits should look so similar.
Morella rubra (more commonly known as Myrica rubra) is native to much of temperate and tropical Southeast Asia, where (according to the Wikipedia entry) the species has been cultivated for a couple of millennia. I can certainly see why. They are tart and delicious. There’s no mistaking the two. The large pit in red bayberry fruits takes up about two-thirds of the overall volume, while the gritty seeds in Arbutus are small and numerous. As for taste, the mushy, insipid (some people I know refer to it as “delicate”) tasting cornels produced by Arbutus unedo are no match for the meaty zing of the bayberry.