Native to Europe and Asia, European Mountain Ash has been widely planted in northern North America as an ornamental and has naturalized in some parts of Canada and the northern U.S. It is primarily cultivated for its compound green leaves and attractive clusters of fall fruit.
It is a fast growing large shrub or small tree that grows 20 to 40 feet tall with a narrow, upright-oval crown, usually rounding and opening with age. Compound, odd-pinnate, flat medium green leaves have 9 to 15 serrate, oblong-lanceolate leaflets (each leaflet to 2 1/2 inches long).
Leaves turn yellow to reddish-purple in fall. Lovely, small, 1/3 inch, white, 5-petaled flowers bloom in flattened corymbs in May. Flowers give way to pendant clusters of orange-red berry-like drupes in late summer that are attractive to birds.
The bark is smooth, silvery grey of young trees, becoming scaly pale grey-brown and occasionally fissured on old trees. Mountain Ashes have ash-like leaves, but are members of the Rose family, and are not related to true ashes (Fraxinus of the Olive family). Rowan Berries are great for adding a splash of color to a landscape and for attracting birds.
The fruit is usually very bitter and inedible fresh, but are used to make jam or jelly with a distinctive bitter flavor. Rowan Jelly is a traditional accompaniment to game and venison. In the United Kingdom, where it is often known as the wiggen tree, the Mountain Ash has traditionally been used as an anti-witching device. Its alternate name "Rowan" comes from an old Scandinavian word meaning red. European Mountain Ash is planted for its ornamental qualities and as a source of food for birds.