November 05 2020
Legend has it that someone on a journey will not get lost near a Wayfarer’s Tree, also known as a Rowan, or to us, a Mountain Ash. In fact, legends abound about this Northern European tree. It was known as the Tree of Life in Celtic lore and symbolized courage, wisdom and protection. Norse myths said it was the tree from which the first woman was made and the ancient Britons believed it protected against witchcraft and enchantment. A good tree all around!
A Mountain Ash is not to be confused with a Green Ash, which is a different family altogether and not related. I’ve been told that we are not to plant Green Ash trees (long a favorite of prairie windbreaks) as they are being decimated by the Emerald Ash Borer. So should you go to your favorite nursery and ask to see ash trees and the owner asks you “fraxinus or sorbus?”-say sorbus. This is the fabled Wayfarer’s Tree. And if you want to think that you will not get lost on your journey if you have this tree, why not!
They are beautiful trees with pinnate leaves, white flowers and clusters of red berries that hang on through the winter. Apparently cedar waxwings can get tipsy when the sugars in the berries ferment-amazing Mother Nature! Suppose they go back for more?
The Oakleaf Mountain Ash is my favorite. It is a naturally occurring hybrid between a European Rowan and a Swedish Mountain Ash and has oakleaf shaped leaves that are silvery underneath. I hadn’t really thought about it, but nature does indeed hybridize-one would suppose it’s random compared to human’s deliberate intervention in crossing species. I would argue that the outcomes are not dissimilar.
The first Mountain Ash I ever planted -next to a concrete patio-got severe sunscald. On a warm sunny winter day the bark heats up and breaks dormancy; these tissues then are killed by nighttime freezing. You might not see it until the following growing season when it may crack open or peel off. Most trees grow thicker bark with age and become less susceptible but not so Mountain Ashes. You can shade the tree trunk through the winter to prevent this-it would be nice if someone invented a partially shaded tree guard that was easy to install. Another solution I am trying is to plant the tree where it will get more shade on winter afternoons. My newest Oakleaf Mountain Ash is on the east side of my house where a porch shades it in the winter but not in the summer when the sun moves north. Seems to be working-and luckily that is also near my front gate. Lest I get lost.
Sorbus Americana, American Mountain Ash
Sorbus x hybrida, Oakleaf Mountain Ash, zones 3-6 15-30’ tall and wide