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The Mountain Ash or Rowan

UK Garden Centre - Information about the Mountain Ash or Rowan tree

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Family Rosaceae
Sorbus Aucuparia

In recent years the Mountain Ash has come so much into favour that it is now one of the commonest of the trees planted in suburban gardens and fore-courts. Its hardiness, its indifference to the character of the soil, the fact that other plants will grow beneath it, and the absence of need for pruning, make it most suitable and popular for growth in restricted areas. But the wood on the hillside is the natural home of the Mountain Ash, and in the Highlands of Scotland its vertical range extends to 2,600 feet above sea level.
The Mountain Ash attains a height of from thirty to fifty feet, and has a straight, clean bole, clothed in smooth grey bark, scarred horizontally as though it had been scored with a knife. All the branches have an upward tendency, and the shoots bear the long feathery leaves, whose division into eleven to fifteen slender leaflets suggests the Ash. It is not even remotely allied to Fraxinus excelsior, and the similarity of leaf-division is the only point of resemblance between them.
These leaflets have toothed edges, are paler on the underside, and in a young condition the midrib and nerves are hairy.
The creamy-white flowers are like little Hawthorn blossoms, though only half the size, and they appear in dense clusters in May or June.
The fruits are miniature apples, of the size of holly berries, bright scarlet without and yellow within. They ripen in September, and are then a great attraction to thrushes, blackbirds, and their kind, who rapidly strip the tree of them. At first sight this may appear like frustrating the tree’s object in producing fruit, but the attractive flesh is a mere bait to induce the birds to pass the seeds through their intestines, and thus get them sown far and wide. By this method the process of germination is considerably hastened, whereas by hand-sowing the seeds lie in the earth for eighteen months before shooting.
All the species of Sorbus produce their fruits with this object, the larger more or less brownish ones being intended to attract mammals, the smaller and red-coloured to tempt birds. The seeds have leathery jackets to protect them from the action of the digestive fluids, and are further wrapped in a parchment-like, bony, or wooden “core”, with a similar object. In the case of the Mountain Ash this is very like wood.
In the south of Britain the Mountain Ash is chiefly grown as underwood and used as a nurse for oaks and other timber trees, which soon outgrow and kill it; so that in the woods it is seldom allowed to grow into a fully developed tree, but, thanks to the birds, it comes up on the common and the hillside, and has a chance of producing its masses of ruby fruit.
Its wood is tough and elastic, but, owing to the smallness of its girth, it does not produce timber of any size.
Among the numerous names of the Mountain Ash are Quickbeam, White Ash (from the colour of the flowers), Witch-wood, and Witchen. Quickbeam is in allusion to the constant movement of the foliage, quick being the Anglo-Saxon cwic, alive. Witch-wood and Witchen are also forms of cwic.


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