Sunday, 11 January 2015

Tree following January 2015 - Sorbus Autumn Spire

Nursery label
For the first time I decided to join many of you in Lucy's 'I'm following a Tree' series.   The tree I have picked to follow is Sorbus Autumn Spire.  The species Sorbus is generally better known by it's common name Rowan.  It is described as a medium sized deciduous tree with columnar growth habit. Clusters of white flowers appear in late spring and yellow berries (pomes) in autumn.  S. Autumn Spire is listed as a clone of the more widely known S. Joseph Rock.  Also described as ideal for a restricted place.  Height and spread of this tree after 10 years is 4m x 1.2m (13ft x 4ft)

Right now, at the beginning of January, you would be easily excused for not paying much attention to this tree.  It is rather unassuming and blends right in with it's background.  If you blink, you'd miss it!  This tree was chosen because of it's ultimate size, the other deciding factor was that it was attractive to wildlife.  It has been in my garden for 10 months now and despite it's size, last year, it put out a fair amount of blossom.  The tree had yellow berries, or as they are rightly called pomes, this past Autumn.  I didn't take long for the blackbirds to find them.   It had always been my understanding that birds will always show a preference for red berries before making a start on orange and yellow ones.  Yet in my garden, despite the fact that there is an abundance of red berries on other plants, this tree's yellow berries were cleared first. 

Not long after I got this tree in the ground, one of my cats took a fancy to it and claimed it as his personal scratch pole.   I've managed to discourage him by placing a coiled rabbit guard round the section he was using. This has worked a treat.  The guard is flexible in design and will expand as the tree grows over the years.   It is my intention to under plant this tree with some spring bulbs as it matures.  It would be a such a shame not as this is such a sunny wee site.  Some of my clumps of G. nivalis will be ready for dividing this year, they will be the first added.  
Young green/bronze bark

The bark of this young tree would be best described as green/bronze with a delicate sheen.  Of course, the usual Rowan markings are obvious.  The picture doesn't really show the sheen of at it's best. 

Looking up to the top of the tree, which is around 1.8m (6ft) right now, it somewhat resembles Poseidon's Trident, a break in the cloud allowed me to get a shot against the clear winter sky.  Yes, we do get winter sun here in Scotland!  A bit of heat to go along with it would be an added bonus.

The buds, are as you'd expect them to be at this time of the year, tightly closed.  Those red buds will soon burst open and to produce those long slender leaves, bringing the tree to life.  This tree was the prime perch for many of last year's fledgling birds.  It provided shelter for the little ones and with the feeders placed nearby for the adult birds convenience - I'm sure it saved those exhausted parents a lot of effort.   

S. Autumn Spire is given a southerly aspect here in the garden.  Full sun for most of the year, except for a few weeks either side of the winter solstice when the sun isn't quite high enough to get over the top of nearby houses.  Although not a particularly open site, it can get a bit windy. A couple of times a year this area can get a bit water logged.  The label recommends it is wet tolerant.  The soil is workable and holds adequate moisture for the rest of the year.  Soil conditioners and spent compost has been added over the years.   I have previously lost a few shrubs from this spot in the garden, due to the aforementioned conditions.  I hope I've made a better choice with this plant.  I had noted that some of the Rowans that grow along the river at the end of the road can often have their roots under water for days, if not weeks, on end when the river is high.  I hope this tree can cope just as well as those.     

Throughout history, many cultures have cherished trees believing them to have magical and sacred powers.  None more so than the Rowan Tree here in Scotland.  It's connection with beliefs, myths and tales are widespread.  One of the more familiar cultural beliefs, not only here in Scotland but elsewhere, is that having a Rowan Tree growing by your front door or garden gate is said to ward off witches.  Branches of the Rowan tied above a door will keep the very same witches at bay.  Pieces of Rowan hung above stable doors were said to prevent the witches entering the stables and taking the horse for a midnight ride.  There are even instances in property law here in Scotland, where it is forbidden to remove a Rowan Tree from a particular property.   It is said to be bad luck to cut or fell a Rowan Tree.  However, wood from fallen trees were traditionally used to make walking sticks, spinning wheels, spindles and tool handles.  Bark and berries are also used to dye garments.  I have read that the red of the rowan berries was the inspiration behind the red colouring of tartan plaids.

In the highlands of Scotland, Rowan Trees are often the only remaining clue that a Croft once stood on a site.  The Rowan Tree features in the Celtic tree Calendar in which each of the 13 lunar months is represented by a tree with magical powers.  Caorunn (pronounced ka-roon) is the Gaelic word for the Rowan Berry.  The abundant planting of Rowans planted in the north of Scotland attracts large flocks of migrating birds, especially waxwing, redwings and fieldfares, from Scandinavia in winter. 

Would you believe that until recently Scotland did not have a national tree.  In 2013 a 3 month consultation was launched, supported by a wide range of agencies, to decide which tree would be designated as such.  The Rowan tree came runner up to the Scot's Pine proving it's familiarity and popularity in our culture.

28 comments:

  1. Oh Angie I look forward to reading more about your tree as the year unfolds. It sounds as if you have chosen a tree for all seasons. Those buds are fabulous and you have so much more to look forward to. I hope that it fares well in your garden.

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    1. I'm looking forward to observing it more closely and seeing how it copes with the seasons Anna - I think linking to this post will have great benefit for me.

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  2. A good choice Angie, I do like the Rowan tree for all the reasons you mention.
    It will be interesting to see it develop this year.

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    1. They are incredibly popular garden trees up here Brian - it's rare to see a garden that has trees without one.

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  3. It's not often that you find a tree that's attractive and has quite a history as well. I look forward to your tree following posts. Funny that your cat took a liking to it - maybe that dispatches with the belief that cats are affiliated with witches!

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    1. Yes, that history Kris. I've I'm to believe in the witchcraft, mother nature will have to get rid of this tree before I do :)

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  4. The fact that it dissuades witches could be useful :) I won't go into detail. I always thoughts birds only went for yellow berries after the red ones had gone too.

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    1. Since planting, I've never seen a witch in my garden Sue ;) Therefore I have to assume it works...lol! Happy you've confirmed re the berries, I thought maybe I was imagining reading it!

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  5. Dear Angie, thanks for this great intro to Sorbus Autumn Spire! It is a "new-to-me tree" and I enjoyed reading about it. What I really like besides many of its other features is that it is a relatively small tree when it is mature, fitting in a medium sized garden and the fact that it is provides food for the birds in winter. The historic info that you put together was also quite interesting. Hope you enjoy this beauty in your garden quite a bit over the coming years. Warm regards,
    Christina

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    1. Glad you enjoyed Christina and it's always nice to read about new plants.

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  6. It is interesting that Caorunn (pronounced ka-roon) is the Gaelic word for the Rowan Berry. One of the French names for Rowan is "cormier" which seems rather close to Caorunn. Appparently cormier might come from sormel, which is made up of two Celtic words "sor" meaning rough and "mel" meaning apple. So both Caorunn and Cormier are celtic - they might be more closely related than it seems.

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    1. You are right, that is interesting Alain. I don't know enough about the Gaelic language here in Scotland and how it is connected in history to other Gaelic speaking cultures but I suppose if there is a connection, some things over the years could be lost in local dialect and you might be right.

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  7. Oh heck ... I forgot all about tree following this month!! Too late now I think! Never mind, I enjoyed reading about your Rowan, Angie, - a lovely tree with all year interest. Those fattening leaf buds are a very welcome sight !!

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    1. I think you still have time Jane. I've often seen late posts for many memes. I think the link closes on the 14th.
      Those buds sure are very welcome!

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  8. Thanks for the great introduction to the Rowan, especially the cultural information and stories. I hope your tree-following goes well!

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  9. What a great tree to follow. I'll look forward to more photos and information about your tree throughout the year! How interesting that it has a mythical significance, as well.

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  10. A lovely tree to post about! I've never gotten to see one, so far as I know, and I'll look forward to watching yours!

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  11. Lots of interesting information about the rowan tree. I knew the bit about witches as our next door neighbour was given a rowan tree when they moved in. Thankfully we do have a tree too in our front hedge, but it is a bit hidden now. When we were walking out at Glen Tanner earlier in the year we saw some wonderful rowan trees with pinkish white berries - I had never seen those before. Alistair of Aberdeen Gardening (http://www.aberdeengardening.co.uk/diary/2010/12/sorbus-cashmiriana/) talks about these and others on his blog. I never knew there were so many varieties. A lovely tree to choose - you will really enjoy following it.

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  12. Great story abnout your Sorbus Autumn Spire with a lot of new information for me. Did you know there are also Sorbus varieties with white berries? I know because our neigbours have a meadow with only different varieties of Sorbus trees.

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  13. I have always loved the Rowan tree Angie, my first memory of one was in my grandparents garden, we called them roden trees back then, maybe it was an Aberdeen thing, not sure. We had Joseph Rock in our Aberdeen garden, the blackbirds went after the berries when those in other trees were finished. Looking forward to seeing how Autumn Spire develops.

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  14. Looking forward to seeing your Rowan through the season changes :) I love the shape of the leaf and berry arrangements on Sorbus trees.

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  15. I've never looked at the bark of a rowan before. Now I will. Nor was I aware some rowans have yellow berries. Now I do!

    Glad you are joining us in following a tree and looking forward to learning more about it in the year ahead.

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  16. A lovely tree to follow Angie. And one that is so rich in folk lore. Handy that it keeps off witches too. I have apotropaic marks carved into the bressumer beams over the fireplaces in my house. I believe this was done to stop witches flying down the chimney. And this clearly works too, as I have never had any witches appearing down the chimney. Not one.

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  17. I nice looking tree and an interesting history lesson! It sounds like we might ALL benefit from having one of these. I look forward to seeing what your tree looks like when it leafs out and greens up.

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  18. Angie, I can confirm that the rowan tree means the same in Russia. Some people believe that it dissuades witches and there are many songs about the girls/love and rowan tree. I have it in my garden as well but I complain that it's not disease tolerant at all.

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  19. I approve Angie! I love rowans, for their mystique, their form, their all-year-round interest. I had one in my previous garden (a red berried form) and last year I planted a pink berried form in the front garden. I shall watch the progress of yours with great interest, as our two trees are pretty much the same age and size but growing in very different conditions. Incidentally, my last rowan grew on heavy clay soil that got quite waterlogged at points and it thrived, so I am sure yours will be very happy. And all the more so when underplanted with lovely bulbs and flowers!

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  20. Dear Angie, I found your lovely blog by chance, as I was researching about the 'spire' we've just bought for our garden here, in York. Your writing was so much more enjoyable than the usual, dry, horticultural advice - thank you for all the interesting tidbits - I hope that our rowan looks as good as yours in a year or two! Happy gardening.

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  21. Hi Angie,
    what a wonderfully interesting story about your tree and about so many aspects of Scotland. I recently moved from widnes to Rhostyllen in north wales with my partner. We only having a small south facing rear garden and yesterday I too bought a sorbus autumn spire. I am really looking forward to watching it change through the seasons as you have described. Phil

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