COBWEB CORNERS: A question about trees

By Mel McFarland

       A question I get around the Cog station this time of year has an interesting answer. We have trees with bright orange berries that appear in August, which now have turned red. They hang onto their berries until spring. These trees are called Mountain Ash, but are commonly known as Rowan trees. What makes their presence unusual is that they generally found in England. Many of you may know that this area was visited regularly (and still is) by English people. The name Little London was used as early as the 1880s. So what about the trees?
       The tree is ornamental, but it was planted outside cottage doors all over the United Kingdom as a protection against witches! "Witches have no powers where there is Rowan wood" was an old saying. The berries are a feast for the birds once they soften. Until the frost they are generally like little red rocks. As early spring arrives, they become like little raisins. Birds are not the only ones to enjoy them for more than decoration. I am often asked if they are edible. In England their juice is combined with a variety of other fruits to make a jelly. In North Africa I am told they are used as a spice in cooking. I have also heard of people collecting the berries and brewing a variety of gin.
       All I have ever done with Rowan trees is to try to get them to grow. Several of us up at the railway have tried. It is fairly difficult. They prefer a peaty soil with good drainage. The soil around where they grow in Manitou is rocky and hard. I have just tried planting seeds, but some of my coworkers have even tried, without success, transplanting small trees. So we are left to wonder how the trees here came to be.
       In England, May 1 was known as Rowan Tree Day. The juice from the berries was used to dye strips of cloth that were tied around the necks of cows and horses for protection against evil spirits. Up at the Cog station, in the fall, the deer and the bears come visit us for apples. I never have seen them eat a Rowan berry.