The second tree in our 2021 tree guide is Rowan. This month, the ‘Survivor Tree’ – a rowan, is competing to be named European Tree of the Year – we are up against some strong competition, so please do vote.
The Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia (Luis or Chaoruin in Gaelic) has held on to some of its Scottish folklore. Most people know you need a rowan at your gate to ‘keep the witches away’. Many will hesitate to cut it, or bring its pretty flowers and berries into the house. If they do, they will apologise to the tree.
Smaller and more gnarly than the ash, the Rowan has similar shaped compound leaves. It creamy flowers, like cherry blossom but clustered in flat bunches, appear in May or June. As well as being attractive, the Rowan is valuable to wildlife. A range of birds from rooks to finches, and mammals such as foxes, badgers and pine martens, feast on the orange berries. These ripen on some trees as early as August and on others as late as November.
The Rowan is widespread and easy to find. It is very hardy and survives on thin soils, sometimes appearing to grow directly out of a boulder, like a much-loved one to the left of the road as you enter Glencoe from the south. It is not a timber tree but its wood was formerly used for tool handles. Wood turners still utilise it for decorative objects and many a campfire has been kindled with its twigs.
The Carrifran ‘Survivor Tree’, initially famous when it appeared on the project’s most successful fundraising brochure, around 20 years ago, won the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year competition in 2020. It’s a modest, sabre shaped tree which grows from a steep bank beside the burn. It has survived perhaps a couple of hundred years because it’s out of reach of browsing sheep and deer. With these banished, this Rowan, once solitary, is now surrounded by its offspring and has become of symbol of restoration.
In this video Cara Roberts images the story that the Survivor Tree might tell. Cara first performed this tale in February 2021 as part of a Scottish Storytelling Centre event.