Rowan trees are easily identified in autumn by their distinctive bright red or orange berries. Rowans are not large trees – usually they are between 4 and 12 meters tall and can live up to 200 years. Although not related to ash, they look similar and grow in upland areas, so are sometimes called mountain ash.
The berries of rowan are an important food source for birds. The birds who eat the berries then disperse the seeds in their droppings, which helps the rowan to propagate. Sometimes, this results in epiphytic trees – also called air trees or flying rowan. The bird drop the seed in a cavity in a mature tree and the young tree starts to grow there, sending roots down through or around the host tree.
Rowan trees have long been associated with protecting against witchcraft and enchantment. They are often planted outside churches or beside houses and gates. In Scotland, it is considered unlucky to cut down a rowan tree, however this is not true across the whole of Britain and the wood is used for making tool handles amongst other things.
Rowan berries are high in vitamin C and edible when cooked, although they are tart. Rowan jelly is traditionally served with game. The berries can also be used in the dying of cloth.
The Survivor Rowan at Carrifran Wildwood has been nominated as a contender for Scotland’s Tree of the Year 2020. Help us celebrate 20 years of ecological restoration by voting for our tree.