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The Puzzle Tree

Riddle me this.

It blossoms in May with rich, sweet-smelling flowers.

It starts losing its leaves in late June.

It begins shedding its cinnamon red bark in July leaving behind a Pistachio-Green trunk.

What is it?

This was one of my favorite things as a kid. It is one of the things that attracted me to the property we bought in 2019.

It's a Madrone.

And this act of shedding bark is not exclusive to the Madrone. Several other trees do the same thing including Birch and Sycamore.

Native Americans ate the rather bland, reddish orange berries fresh. The berries also made good cider and were often dried and pounded into meal. Tea brewed from the leaves and bark were used medicinally. The tree also provided sustenance and protection for a variety of birds, and for other wildlife. Bees are attracted to the fragrant white flowers. (source:

Long known, admired, and utilized by indigenous people, the madrona was identified for Europeans in the Salish Sea area by Archibald Menzies, on May 2, 1792, on the southwest shore of Discovery Bay. Sources differ as to the exact spot Menzies walked ashore. As Highway 101 turns north along the bay’s southwestern shore, watch for the exit on the right to Old Gardiner Road. In the less than two miles on Gardiner to the Worldmark Hotel (where you can turn back onto 101), you will see lots of lovely madronas, though no massive old ones. If you are a madrona lover though, you’ve touched an historic place. (source:

Until today, I thought the Laurel and the Madrone were the same tree, apparently they are not.

I also had no idea until today that the Madrone only grows on the Pacific Coast of North American, and primarily from Northern California to British Columbia. I think that is neat! They have always been very special to me.

This tree takes me back to my childhood here in southwestern Oregon. We have a variety of trees, but the Madrone is different.

I have always referred to it as the "puzzle tree". As kids we would stand at its trunk and easily peel away the tougher bark. Pieces came off in different shapes, 1” to 2” in size and always reminded me of a puzzle. The thinner pieces were already pulling loose of the trunk, curled at the edges, brittle and super thin. The trunk was so smooth where the bark fell away, something you didn't get with a Fir, Pine, or Oak. It was fun to run your hand over it.

Do you know why trees regularly shed their bark?

The most common cause of tree bark loss is growth.

Trees that shed bark are growing out of their skins and need to shed a layer of bark to allow their trunks to enlarge.

This shedding process is commonly referred to as exfoliation.

Trees grow from the inside as well as from the outside. A crucial part of this growing process is the shedding of bark. As trees grow, their trunks and limbs thicken, and as a result, the old layer of bark is replaced with a new layer. This leads to shedding as the old bark peels or breaks away to be replaced with a stronger and fresher layer.

During this process it may appear the tree is in distress. A person may think the tree is dying or has pests or a disease. But in fact, it is a healthy part of the cycle of becoming a mature tree.

Ephesians 4:22-24 tells us to put off the old man and put on the new, thus becoming mature people.

to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” ESV

What does it mean to put off old self? It means honesty.

Colossians 3:9-10 tells us, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” ESV

What does it mean to put off old self? It means no longer being a slave.

“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” Romans 6:6 ESV

What does it mean to put off that old shell of self? It means shutting the door on the devil and inviting Jesus to lead. It means gaining that self-control that has been lacking. It means having the love that was missing. It means growing and adding to our faith.

In much the same way as we take vitamins and supplements to help our physical body, Simeon Peter tells us to supplement our faith to keep us from being stunted in our spiritual growth.

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…” 2 Peter 1:5-9 ESV

Yes, madrones are special to me. The clusters of small white flowers in the spring, the peeling red bark replaced by something so different every summer, the red berries in the fall…all play a part in attracting wildlife. Insects, woodpeckers, and other birds flock to these trees in late summer and fall.

Madrones also tend to have a strange growth pattern. They will put out long bare branches with large clumps of leaves at the ends, especially if they're growing among other more aggressive trees where they need to twist and reach for the light.

Just like the madrone will do what needs to be done to reach the sun’s light, let’s do everything in our power to reach and teach the Son’s light.

Let’s be the sweet-smelling blossom that attracts. Let’s be the red berry that feeds, let’s be the uniqueness that is the Madrone trunk: smooth, attractive and different.

Since before the beginning of earth’s history, there was a plan for your life! A very specific plan involving good works and a relationship with our Savior.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 ESV

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