To me nothing is more redolent of the bountiful fruits of autumn than a Rowan (Sorbus) bedecked with berries.
Rowans are attractive, slender trees with silvery-brown bark and frothy white flowers in spring-summer which are especially attractive to bees. In autumn they bear berries in tones ranging from pinkish white to orange and scarlet which provide welcome sustenance to birds, especially blackbirds and thrushes. The foliage is also light and airy making them perfect for under planting.
In the garden they prefer light, sandy, slightly acidic soils and will often thrive in exposed places. Often in the most exposed places they will be no more than shrubs clinging precariously to rock faces. When transplanted to the garden however, many make handsome trees of 15-20m tall. All are extremely hardy and cold tolerant and indeed do best in cold, temperate climates. What follows are a few of my favourites.
The Japanese Rowan is most notable for its superb autumn colour, the leaves glow bright orange, red and finally purple. The orange-red berries seem a sideshow compared to the foliage although they do persist longer than the foliage, until the birds take them anyway. In cultivation it can reach over 20 feet but is more tolerant of heavy soils if good preparation is made when planting. The cultivar ‘Jermyns’ is especially choice with outstanding autumn colour and orange berries. ‘Embley’ makes another excellent autumn feature and in a good year the display of red, gold and purple foliage can last up to a fortnight.
The flowers of this species appear in summer and are tinged pink followed in autumn by heavy bunches of pure white berries which are often ignored by birds. Although it comes from a warmer area of the world it is perfectly hardy.
This is an ideal tree for the smaller garden. The foliage is made up of small leaflets giving a ferny effect. The berries are especially striking as they develop from rose pink to bright mauve fading to near white in the winter.
This is one of my favourite trees despite being slow growing. Although the flowers are quite tiny they are born in profusion and develop into large clusters of shiny scarlet fruit and crimson sticky winter buds as well as orange autumn colour.
This is one of the most distinctive trees in leaf as it has blue-green undersides to the foliage. The berries are pale pink and often left alone by the birds which means they will persist in winter. This has been the parent of some outstanding cultivars including ‘Pink Pagoda’ which has a well deserved AGM.
Native to northern Europe, including Britiain, this is one Sorbus that will thrive on chalk. The emerging foliage is covered in a silvery down which is soon shed on the upper surfaces whilst they remain brilliantly white below. The white flowers are followed by red berries.