Sorbus aucuparia is commonly known as Rowan or the Mountain Ash. They are native to the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere and was widely used for its edible fruit. The raw fruit contain parasorbic acid which is mildly toxic and causes indigestion, but freezing or heating the picked berries renders it non-toxic. It can be made into a slightly bitter jelly used to accompany game meat. The name mountain ash is derived from the fact that the leaves bear a resemblance to those of true ash trees. It has also been known from the middle ages as ‘quickbeam’.
It is a small deciduous tree rarely growing taller than 14 meters. The berries are a particular favourite of birds, especially waxwings which, in an ‘invasion year’ will descend upon a tree in numbers and strip it of all fruit before moving on.
Funky Facts File: The more common Scots Gaelic name is caorunn, which appears in numerous Highland place names such as Beinn Chaorunn in Inverness-shire and Loch a’chaorun in Easter Ross. Rowan was also the clan badge of the Malcolms and McLachlans. There were strong taboos in the Highlands against the use of any parts of the tree save the berries, except for ritual purposes. In England Rowans have long been believed to ward of witches and rowans growing as epiphytes (on another tree like mistletoe does) were thought particularly potent against black magic!