Mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia)

East of Nash Hall Map

The mountain ash should not be confused with the true ash (Fraxinus), which it resembles only in that both have similarly complicated leaves. Genus Sorbus is widespread throughout northern Eurasia but resents heat and drought, so is not well represented in North America. However, mountain ash - an early European import - clearly feels at home in the Pacific Northwest, where it has naturalized and multiplied. Most specimens of mountain ash in this area are merely overgrown bushes, as is our example. Mountain ash is covered with white flowers in the spring, and in the fall with red berries (edible, to birds, and to humans fond of tart jelly). The name "mountain ash" derives from the presence of Sorbus aucuparia on the highest reaches of the mountains of Scotland.

It should be noted that throughout England and much of northern Europe the mountain ash is much better known by another name - rowan. According to legend the rowan tree is imbued with formidable magical powers. Rowan wood has been associated with faeries, elves, Druids and their ilk throughout millennia of folk (mainly Celtic) mythology. The best magic wands are made from rowan wood, and no serious dowser would search for water with a forked twig made from anything else. A Finnish creation myth involves the highly improbable interaction of a rowan tree with Ukko, the God of Thunder; all the earth's plants were the result. Early farmers used the rowan to protect their livestock from malign supernatural influences. Twigs of rowan wood were used to keep the "unquiet dead" in their graves. And thus on, and on.

So, maybe you'd like to rethink your initial impression of this insignificant little bush?