The Mountain ashes, or Rowans, are some of the most colorful trees available for the temperate garden. There are European, American and Korean versions that are all quite popular. There is a fourth one however, which is rarely encountered and yet has an appealing distinctiveness and this is the Japanese rowan, or Japanese mountain ash, known botanically as Sorbus commixta. This tree has a slightly finer texture and fewer pests or diseases than the American or European rowans. It also tends to be somewhat more upright, though early pruning may be helpful to enhance a tree-like form.

The Japanese rowan will mature into a small to medium sized, conical shaped tree. It has beautifully tapered, glossy dark green compound leaves with 11 to 15 leaflets with a bluish underside. This foliage is handsome spring and summer but becomes extraordinary in autumn when it turns spectacular shades of yellow, red and deep purple. And in late spring it bears small white flowers in 6 inch clusters which are followed by showy masses of brilliant red berries in fall. And they are a favorite food for wildlife.

Japanese rowan is also an ideal size since it only reaches 12 feet tall by 5 feet wide in 10 years, and eventually reaches 25 feet or so. It's quite cold hardy, to as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit and it can tolerate most soils, including clay, as long as they are well-drained. It prefers full sun or very light shade. It is well-suited to Lower Canada, the upper US, all of the UK and cool-temperate New Zealand and Australia.

As always, a tree this rare is not likely to be found in the large discount nurseries, but more likely found in the select plant nurseries or from mail-order tree nurseries.

Japanese rowan


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