Tree of the Week – Part 6: The Rowan or Mountain Ash

Tree of the week - Rowan or Mountain Ash

Rowan or Mountain Ash – Sorbus aucuparia

Last week’s Tree of the Week featured a would-be giant, this week we’re looking at one of the best trees to plant in any garden!

One of it’s common names, Mountain Ash refers to the fact that the leaves look like an Ash (which it’s not related to) and that it’s natural home is in uplands and mountainous areas. It is in fact, in the Rose family, which also contains Apples, which makes a bit more sense when you see the fruit – just like miniature apples.

It’s those glorious fruits which make the tree so beautiful through summer and autumn. Combined with the great autumn colour of the leaves and the fragile, fluffy looking flowers in the spring…you get a lot of bang for your buck with a Sorbus!

Like the Silver Birch from Tree of the Week Part 3, Rowan is a native and it’s tolerance of any conditions makes it another of those intrepid early colonisers of open ground.

They grow relatively quickly, usually with a very straight, clean stem to a maximum height of 15m (50′). They will tolerate any soil and most conditions – they are basically tough as old boots. And yet they are valuable for wildlife, give your garden some interest for 3 out of 4 seasons and need nothing in return – no pruning, no feeding, no nurturing – simply dig a big hole and plant it!

The following photos of Rowan berries give you an idea of the range of colours they’re available in…Barbie pink anyone?!

Tree of the Week Sorbus red berries

Sorbus aucuparia ‘Sheerwater’ red berries

Tree of the Week Sorbus berries yellow

Yellow berries of Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’

Tree of the week sorbus pink berries

Sorbus hupahensis ‘Pink Pagoda’

Tree of the week sorbus with orange berries

Orange-red berries on common Sorbus

Tree of the Week Facts, figures and legends!

  • The common name Rowan comes from the Old Norse word rune and means charm! Perhaps more than any other tree, this one has many connections with folklore, spells, fairies & withcraft.
  • It’s protective powers were believed in up & down the country, but the further north you go, the stronger the association. Particularly in Scotland, Rowans were planted next to front doors to protect people, alongside byres or barns to protect livestock.
  • From cradles made of Rowan wood, children wearing necklaces of the berries, ox yokes made of Rowan to prevent the animals being bewitched and sprigs tied to the tails and around the necks of sick livestock – Rowan protected from cradle to grave!
  • Jelly to accompany venison and other game meats is made from the berries. If you’re willing to try making it at home – the seeds are toxic and MUST be seived out!
  • Like many plants in the Rose family, the fruits are quite high in vitamin C and they were once used to treat scurvy – presumably with seeds removed?!
  • The berries are very attractive to birds, especially those in the thrush family. The latin name aucuparia means ‘bird-catching’ because people would use the berries as bait! If you haven’t seen a Song or Mistle Thrush for a while – plant a Rowan.
  • The largest Sorbus aucuparia listed on the Champion Trees of the UK website is a tree tucked away in Kingussie in the Highlands of Scotland.

Personal favourites/recommendations/wish list trees:

  • My personal favourite is the Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ at the end of my own garden – it may have been a factor in the purchase of the house?!
  • There’s a great collection of Sorbus at Westonbirt Arboretum, but if you’re local to the Midlands, the gardens at Jodrell Bank would be worth a visit – they hold the National Collection of Sorbus as well as Malus (the closely related Crab Apples).

You can find out loads more about Rowan trees on websites such as:

The Woodland Trust (even has a beautiful video of a year in the life of a Rowan tree!)

The Wildlife Trusts

Come back next week for Tree of the Week – Part 7