Big thank you from

Beautiful berry from a versatile and lovely tree

by Paul Cormacain

IT was good to see the occasional rowan tree in that damp and wild moorland.

Rowans grow in gardens, can be used as street trees, and can grow in the wild places to an altitude of 2,000 metres.

In the garden the rowan is lovely, producing and radiating green in the leaves, white in the flowers, then a changing kalidiscope of colour as the berries mature

The yearly pattern of the rowan is, a bare tree in the winter, as most trees are bare; then the approach of full green in leaves and white in flowers; then the autumnal glory of green leaves and red berries.

And now I see that our rowan is starting to shed leaves and berries, and I know we are heading for the 'bare' season again.

The berries are becoming even more desirable to the members of the thrush family who, it has to be said, have been nibbling berries for months now.

The blackbird in particular finds the berries a treat even before they ripen and turn red. The northern thrushes, the redwing and fieldfare, will also eat the berries, if the blackbirds leave them any.

The rowan is a native tree throughout Europe, in western Asia and in north Africa.

We also call it the `mountain ash', because of the superficial resemblance of the foliage to that of an ash tree, and also because of its ability to live in the bare moors and mountains.

In more northerly latitudes the tree was called by the Norse name of 'runa', from which 'rowan' is derived, and this name means 'charm'.

This charm thing has a long history, for since ancient times the rowan has been connected with witchcraft. They used to plant rowans outside houses, and in church yards, and used them as a means of warding off witches.

Mayday has always been significant to us, and in olden times we used a spray of rowan to ward off evil at Mayday. We hung it over the doors, and garlanded our wells with it, all to keep the witches away.

I wonder does anyone use rowan for this purpose in this day and age?

An unexpected visitor to the rowan tree is the pine marten, that rare elusive creature who is seldom seen, yet who turns up regularly at Crom Castle in a pre-determined spot to eat the jam left out for it.

The creatures are brain-washed into thinking they have sourced a unique and original food supply that no other creature has found, and they turn up most days.

Little do they know they are being observed by visitors and scientists alike, which is good, for otherwise it is extremely difficult to see these creatures. The more we can see them, the more we can learn about them.

But the appeal of the rowan does not end there. In the 'old days', before my time, there was a section of society known as bird-catchers, who literally caught birds for a living.

Being good observers of wildlife, including birds and trees, they found out about the thrushes' love of the fruit of the rowan. The bird-catchers took the berries from the rowan, and used hem to bait traps to snare thrushes, redwings and fieldfares. (Why not blackbirds?)

The wood of the rowan was deemed suitable for making long-bows, and was sometimes taken in preference to yew. Tool handles were cut from rowan, as the strong, flexible, yellow-grey wood was found to be most suitable.

Now to food and drink for humans! The mature berries of the rowan were used to make a jelly which was found to be most suitable with game. As Mrs Beeton would say, 'first you catch your deer'. As there was a strong vitamin C content in the berries of rowan, they used to make a drink of them, and this was suppposed to prevent scurvy.

A versatile berry, a versatile and lovely tree.

Coming Events

Saturday 14 September - National Trust Guided Walk with head gardener at Mount Stewart, 10.30, more from 9751 0721

Monday 23 September - Lisburn RSPB, with Clive Mellon talking about Farmland Birds Past and Present, details 4062 6125

Thursday 26 September - Birdwatch morning at Castle Espie at 10.30, more details from 9187 4146.

Friday 27 September - Wildlife Pub Quiz, 8pm. Find out more from Castle Espie 9187 4146

Saturday 28- September - National Trust Fungi Foray at Rowallane, 2pm. More details from 9 751 0131
Birds of the Estuary Walk at Murlough nature reserve, 1.30, details 97510721

Sunday 29 September - Another National Trust Fungal Foray, this time at Castle Ward 3pm, hear more from 97510721

Woodland Walk at the Argory with the warden, 2pm, call 9751 0721.

Autumn Ramble around Crom Estate, 2pm, details 9 7510 72

Ulster Star