Rowan - Sorbus aucuparia

Rowan – Sorbus aucuparia

Tree of the Week

1st August 2022 | Info

Common name: Rowan (also known as the mountain ash)

Scientific name: Sorbus aucuparia

Introduction: With a mythical history, the rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) is a small, UK-native deciduous tree that favours high altitudes.


Leaves: Rowan leaves are narrowly pinnate and compose of up to eight separate leaflets that are bright green in colour and have toothed edges.

Buds: Rowan trees have two types of buds – terminal buds and lateral buds. Both buds are often purple and hairy.

Bark: The bark of a rowan tree is silvery-grey and smooth to touch. However, younger twigs often begin hairy and only smooth out as the tree matures.

Form: Rowan trees often have an upright form.

Berries: Rowan trees have bright scarlet berries in the autumn. These are poisonous when raw but are harmless after cooking and can be used to make jams and preserves.

Sorbus aucuparia bark


Rowan trees are hermaphrodite (meaning that both male and female parts exist within the same tree), and their dense-forming white flowers have five petals. Once pollinated by insects, these flowers develop into small, bright red fruits. Birds proceed to eat these fruits and disperse their seeds naturally.

Growth Habit

Rowan trees have a relatively slow growth rate but can live for over 200 years. The oldest European rowan tree currently on record is in Kilakot, Iceland; planted in 1915, the tree is now over 106 years old.

Ecological Importance

Rowan trees have great ecological importance as they help to provide a food source to a variety of insects. Their flowers also provide a source of nectar and pollen to bees, and birds favour their berries in the autumn.

Properties of Rowan Wood and its Uses

Rowan wood is characteristically pale-yellow to brown in colour and has a darker heartwood. However, despite being a strong wood, it lacks durability.

Rowan wood can be used to make furniture or for engraving purposes. Historically it was used in tools to stir milk to prevent curdling.

Styling of Rowan Trees/Where to Find Them

While native to the UK, rowan trees can also be found in colder climates across the northern hemisphere.

In the UK, you can predominately find them in the Scottish Highlands where they thrive at higher altitudes.

They are also grown as ornamental trees and can be found growing along streets or in gardens.

Associated Pests and Diseases

Unfortunately, the rowan tree can be prone to the Fireblight disease, as well as Silver Leaf Disease and the European Mountain Ash Ringspot-Associated Virus.

Interesting Facts

Due to the colour red having an association with fighting off evil, the bright red berries of a rowan tree have always been linked to witchcraft and wizardry.

The Rowan tree is particularly important in Norse Mythology. One legend has it that Thor once saved himself by clinging to a rowan and thus it earned the title of “salvation of Thor.”

In literature, J. R. R. Tolkien used rowans as inspiration for the Ents in Lord of the Rings.


Pruning and Pruning Qualities: Generally speaking, Rowan trees require regular pruning to encourage a strong structure for their fruit-bearing branches.

In this process, you should also take the time to prune out any dead, diseased, or congested branches to help maintain the health of the tree but also to encourage greater airflow. You should remove these as and when you notice them.

However, any other pruning should ideally be carried out once the tree is dormant so that the risk of bleeding sap is reduced and therefore, so is the risk of pests and diseases.

*Please note – knowing what your Rowan tree may need can be difficult which is why we would always suggest consulting your local tree surgeon. They will be not only able to carry out any work for you safely but also be able to answer any questions that you may have. You can find your local tree surgeon here.

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