1280px-Rowan_tree_20081002b by Eeno11This wonderful tree, native to the U.K., is often associated with Scotland. It certainly suits bird life as the profuse red autumn berries provide a lot of autumnal sustenance. As they are not regular in shape,  the parent Rowan can be grown as a multi-stemmed specimen to achieve more uniformity of shape, or alternatively one of it’s clones, such as Sorbus aucuparia ‘Rossica Major’ can be used.

Common name: Rowan , Mountain Ash (due to the fact that it grows well at high altitudes and its leaves are similar to those of the ash, Fraxinus excelsior – however, the two species are not related). It’s latin name is composed of Sorbus for ‘service tree’ and aucuparia, which derives from the words ‘avis’ for “bird” and ‘capere’ for “catching” and describes the use of the fruit of S. aucuparia as bait for fowling. 

Native areas: The Rowan can be found in almost all of Europe and the Caucasus up to Northern Russia and Siberia, but it is not native to Southern Spain, Southern Greece, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, the Azores, and the Faroe Islands. The species was introduced as an ornamental species in North America.

Historical notes: Fruit of S. aucuparia were used in the past to lure and catch birds. To humans, the fruit are bitter but they can be debittered and made into compote, jelly, jam, a tangy syrup, a tart chutney, or juice, as well as wine and liqueur, or used for tea or to make flour. The robust qualities of S. aucuparia make it a source for fruit in harsh mountain climate and Maria Theresa of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy recommended the planting of the species in 1779.

The colour red was considered to be the best colour for fighting evil, and so the rowan, with its bright red berries, has long been associated with magic and witches. Its old Celtic name is ‘fid na ndruad’, which means wizards’ tree. In Ireland it was planted near houses to protect them against spirits, and in Wales rowan trees were planted in churchyards. Cutting down a rowan was considered taboo in Scotland. The wood was used for stirring milk to prevent it curdling, and as a pocket charm against rheumatism. It was also used to make divining rods.

The tallest S. aucuparia in the United Kingdom stands in the Chiltern Hills in South East England. This exceptional specimen is 28 m tall and has a trunk diameter of 56 cm.

Features: Sorbus aucuparia occurs as a tree or shrub that grows up to between 5 and 15 m in height. The crown is loose and roundish or irregularly shaped but wide and the plant often grows multiple trunks. The trunk is slender and cylindrical and reaches up to 40 cm in diameter, and the branches stick out and are slanted upwards. The bark of a young S. aucuparia is yellowish grey and gleaming and becomes grey-black with lengthwise cracks in advanced age; it descales in small flakes. Lenticels in the bark are elongated and coloured a bright ochre. The plant does not often grow older than 80 years and is one of the shortest-lived trees in a temperate climate.

6092500778_965c21d14d_bUses:   Rowans are planted in mountain ranges to fortify landslides and avalanche zones. It is also used as an ornamental plant in parks, gardens, or as an avenue tree. It is well suited to wildlife gardens. Cultivars are vegetatively propagated via cuttings, grafting, or shield budding. Ornamental cultivars include:

‘Asplenifolia’, which has divided and sharply serrated leaflets

‘Blackhawk’, with large fruit and dark green foliage

‘Fastigiata’, an upright columnar form

‘Fructu Luteo’, orange yellow fruit

‘Michred’, brilliant red fruit

‘Pendula’, which is a weeping tree

‘Sheerwater Seedling’, upright and slender, has vigorous growth, good-sized leaves and reliable and plentiful berries. It has been used as a street tree and is ideal for sites with little sideways space 

‘Xanthocarpa’ has orange yellow fruit

Growing conditions:  S. aucuparia is an undemanding species and can withstand shade It is frost hardy and can tolerate winter dryness and a brief growing season.  The plant is also resistant to air pollution, wind, and snow pressure. S. aucuparia mostly grows on soil that is moderately dry to moderately damp, acidic, low on nutrients, sandy, and loose. It often grows in stony soil or clay soil, but also sandy soil or wet peat. The plant grows best on fresh, loose, and fertile soil, prefers average humidity, and does not tolerate saline soil or waterlogging. It can be found in light woodland of all kinds and as a pioneer species over fallen dead trees or in clear cuttings, and at the edge of forests or at the sides of roads.

Mature S. aucuparia autumn colour

Mature S. aucuparia autumn colour

Further information:


RHS- Sorbus aucuparia

Sorbus aucuparia- the Woodland Trust

Growing S. aucuparia ‘Sheerwater Seedling’- Daily Telegraph

Barcham trees directory- Sorbus aucuparia

Old School Gardener