Every time I see a rowan tree my love for them grows! They truly are one of the most stunning trees that we have in Great Britain.
There’s also so much to learn about them beyond their obvious aesthetic beauty...
Of all the trees growing in our country, the rowan is the one able to grow at the highest altitudes. This explains one half of its other common name – the mountain ash. You can walk in the mountains of Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales and find rowan trees growing in the most obscure places such as rocky outcrops and cliff faces – they really are a hardy tree. However, they are a pioneer species and as a result are short-lived and often relatively small, usually reaching a maximum height of 10-15 metres.
The second half of the other common name comes from the close resemblance of their leaves to those of the ash tree. This is another of our stunning native species, but one which favours lower lands than the rowan. The leaves of both these species are compound and pinnate, meaning they are made up of several leaflets in pairs along the main leaf stem with one at the tip, as can be seen in the image of a rowan leaf below.
Whilst these leaves are distinctive, it is the beautiful clusters of small cream flowers that then turn to scarlet red berries that really make the rowan stand out from the crowd. The flowers are a great source of nectar and pollen for pollinating insects such as bumblebees, and the berries are a valuable source of food for many species of birds including thrushes and waxwings. There is no greater sight than seeing a flock of waxwings feeding on the berries of a rowan tree in late autumn.
|Illustration (c) Chris Shields|
Ecologically, the rowan is a very important tree in our countryside - but it also has strong cultural significance - in no small part due to the vivid red colouration of those berries. The colour red has long been thought of as the colour to ward off evil and so rowan trees were once planted near houses to keep evil spirits away. Its Celtic name – ‘fid na ndruad' – means ‘wizard’s tree’.
Names can tell us many things, and with all species of animals and plants it’s worth trying to learn and understand the scientific name to gain further insight into the history of a species. Rowan’s scientific name is Sorbus aucuparia with ‘aucuparia’ being derived from the words ‘avis’ for birds and ‘capere’ for catching, describing the use of rowan trees as bait to lure in birds to be caught.
The rowan is one of four plants associated with the uplands that volunteers have been monitoring as part of our ‘Buds, Berries and Leaves’ survey. This survey records the timing of natural events (such as bud burst, flowering, fruiting and leaf fall) over the long term, to see if they are changing.
In this way we hope to be able to monitor the effects of climate change on the vegetation of the uplands. If you’re interested in contributing to important climate change data by walking a regular route and recording what you see, then please have a look on our website for more details: http://www.moorsforthefuture.org.uk/community-science/berries-buds-and-leaves
I hope you’ll agree that rowan truly is a jewel of our countryside and definitely a tree worth appreciating.