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Folklore Friday - Rowan trees

Symbol of protection and wisdom. The rowan is an elegant, magical tree. Its delicate feather-like leaves and bright berries are a favourite for wildlife, and people, in woods and towns alike.

Known as the Mountain Ash in some regions the Rowan has Pinnate (feather-like) leaves comprising 5–8 pairs of leaflets and a 'terminal' leaflet at the end. Each leaflet is long, oval and toothed. The rowan is a pioneer species, often being among the first to colonise open ground or newly exposed land. Being a relatively small, short-lived tree it also acts as a nursery tree for other large species who's saplings can grow sturdy in its shade.

Unlike the Ash, Rowan is a hermaphrodite, meaning each flower, each tree, contains both male and female reproductive parts. Flowers grow in dense clusters, each one bearing five creamy-white petals. The leaves are eaten by several species of caterpillar, and the scarlet red berries are an important food source. Fieldfare, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Waxwing, and Redstart can regularly be seen feasting on them.

Rowan has long been regarded as a magical tree. In Norse

mythology the first woman was said to have been made from a Rowan tree, and a rowan rescued Thor from being swept by a river into the underworld. Celts planted the tree in front of dwellings to protect from evil spirits and bad luck. Its old Gaelic name in ancient Ogham script was Luis. In Scotland there was a strong Taboo against cutting down Rowan trees.

In Greek mythology the goddess of youth, Hebe, lost her magical chalice to demons so the gods sent an eagle (the symbol of eternal life) to recover the cup. A fight ensued during which the eagle lost feathers and several drops of blood. Where these fell to earth each of them turned into a rowan tree. So the rowan trees leaves are shaped from the eagle’s feathers and its berries from the droplets of blood.

It is a hardy tree and in over grazed areas you can still often see lone rowan trees standing as a symbol of hope for recovery and regeneration. If you haven't listened to my rowan tree story yet it is available here

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