Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Rowan Tree (1)

The Rowan, or Mountain Ash as it is also known (even though it is a member of the Rose and not the Ash family), is a deciduous tree with a slender crown, ascending branches and smooth greyish bark. It can grow as tall as twenty metres, flowering between May and June and bearing clutches of small red fruits between July and September. The picture shows that its leaves are pinnate, with oblong leaflets all of the same size and shape and in five to seven pairs. The leaflets have toothed edges and are dark green above and bluish-green below.

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

The Rowan is found in a wide range of habitats including open woodland, scrub-land, rocky mountain outcrops, river banks and on acid soils. Because its seeds are often bird-sown, rowans are also common around the ruins of ancient settlements and stone circles. And in the event that such droppings land in a fork or hole on a larger tree, such as an oak, where old leaves have accumulated, they may result in a rowan growing as an epiphyte on the larger tree. Such a rowan is called a flying rowan and was thought to be especially potent against witches and their magic.

Such beliefs may give rise to the tree's many names in mythology and folklore, including quickbane, roan, rune tree, sorb apple, Thor's helper, whispering tree and witchbane, and to uses including being carried on vessels to avoid storms or kept in houses to guard against lightning or even being planted on graves to keep the deceased from haunting. While the density of its wood makes it suitable for walking sticks, druid staffs have traditionally been made from rowan wood and its branches have been used as dowsing rods.

And probably because the Rowan, in its different phases during the year, evokes memories of country days and gentler times, it has found a place in literature, poetry and traditional music such as here in the words of this old Scottish song:

Thy leaves were aye the first o' spring, thy flowr's the simmer's pride
There was nae sic a bonnie tree, in all the country side ...
How fair wert thou in simmer time, wi' all thy clusters white.
Now rich and gay thy autumn dress, wi' berries red and bright.

The Rowan has both medicinal and edible uses: infusions can be made from either its flowers or its fruit and taken for a number of ailments including rheumatic pain and as an aid in the treatment of kidney disorders; contrary to common belief the fruits are not poisonous. They are however rather bitter but this does not prevent them being used to make wine, syrups, soup and jam.

It is this latter use that has engaged me this week and in the next part of this two-part piece, I will describe the process of creating Rowanberry Jelly ... from tree to plate.


Holywell Birder said...

Great post, looking forward to the next part. I have some Birch Sap wine fermenting at the moment, and made elderflower champagne when it was in flower, its a good feeling with you can get food for free through knowledge. Cheers Cain (holywellbirder)

Alcester nature photography. said...

Great post.
Cheers Colin.

Anonymous said...

Yes its a nice tree Emma and I look forward to the next part of the post.

holdingmoments said...

Great post Emma. So much there I never knew, apart from the birds enjoying the berries.
Interesting about the infusion for rheumatic pain. I should try some of that before the birds eat them all. ;)

Killy Birder said...

I was attracted to his post as I have a Rowan tree growing opposite my home. The leaves are begining to change colour now and each year I really enjoy watching the changing colours. I passed it yesterday and thought to myself that I ought to have the camera ready for when the colours are at their most splendid. Cheers Brian.

PCF said...

Rowans seem to be very bright and with lots of berries this year. Do you think this is heavier fruiting than normal?
Black Darter, Ruddy Darter and Blue Hawker at Banks this weekend.

Anonymous said...

I planted a Rowan and it makes a delightful garden tree. I will be interested to know how the jelly turns out.