Rowan, or mountain-ash, is now used to refer to a number of related species. In the Blessed Isles, the name now covers three species: Sorbus aria (the “whitebeam”), Sorbus aucuparia (the typical “rowan” or “mountain-ash”), and Sorbus domesticus (the “service tree”). It is the Sorbus aucuparia that will be dealt with in this article.
Rowans are generally shorter than their almost namesake, the ash tree, and cover the full range of the Blessed Isles. The trees are monecious, producing both male and female flowers and the spirit form of the Otherworld variety reflects this. The fruits of the rowan are bitter to taste but can be used in preserves and the sorbitol in them was formerly a sugar substitute for diabetics. The leaves can be used in beer – and both leaves and fruit have been used for various tinctures and treatments. Rowan can be used for firewood when no other is available but was typically used for wood-turning and similar work.
In terms of folklore and mythology, the rowan has a long tradition of being protective against dark magics. Some regions refer to it as the traveller or wayfarer’s tree as it prevented people from getting lost – and Ranger reports suggest that the Otherwold variety will call out and occasionally guide Expeditions if the tree believes they are heading in a dangerous direction. Although there are no traditions of ghostly or fairy women planting rowans at night, as there are with yews, British and Irish beliefs consider rowans as portal trees and there are a significant number of waypoints that have been or are rowans with a root in each reality.