A spreading shrub 0.2–0.5(–0.8) m in the wild, branches sometimes rooting; bark red-brown, peeling in small flakes. Leaf elliptic, usually glabrous beneath, even when young; margin finely and evenly serrate; petiole pubescent only on upper side; apex acute; leaf base variably shaped. Inflorescence a terminal raceme or cluster of racemes. Flowers erect at first, corolla urceolate, 5 mm, pink or blush, rarely white, in January-June (Mexico). Fruits to 8 mm across, orange-red when ripe in October (Mexico) (Sørensen 1995, González, González & Zamudio 2012)
Distribution Mexico Sierra Madre Occidental, from S Chihuahua south to Jalisco
Habitat Forests, especially in areas with rocky outcrops, 2400–3200 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 8b-10
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)
Little-known in gardens, this exclusively shrubby species of western Mexico has much in common with the tree-forming A. arizonica. Until recently, the much hairier A. mollis (apparently not in cultivation) was included within A. occidentalis as var. villosa McVaugh & Rosatti (González, González & Zamudio 2012). Arbutus occidentalis has been cultivated in a small way in the Pacific Northwest of the USA for some decades. Coe (1983) describes it as ‘delightful’ and retaining the shrub habit. A plant grown by Far Reaches Farm (2021) in coastal Washington State reaches 1.8 m: these growers recommend ‘super good drainage in low fertility soil in dry conditions’. The species is also recorded in Washington Park, Seattle (University of Washington Botanic Gardens 2021). It seems worthy of wider testing in the Pacific States, and as well as in rocky coastal plantings on the Atlantic coast of Europe, should material become available.