Sorbus aucuparia

Sorbus aucuparia

The rowan or mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia L.) is an arboreal species belonging to the Rosaceae family.

Systematic –
From the systematic point of view it belongs to the Domain Eukaryota, Kingdom Plantae, Subarranean Tracheobionta, Superdivision Spermatophyta, Division Magnoliophyta, Class Magnoliopsida, Sottoclasse Rosidae, Order Rosales, Family Rosaceae and then to the Genus Sorbus and to the Specie S. aucuparia.

Etymology –
The term Sorbus derives directly from sorbus, the name of the rowan in Pliny and Columella, derived from sórbeo sorbire, perhaps referring to the ripe and soft fruit from which to sip the fermented juice. The specific aucuparia epithet comes from avis bird and capio catch, capture: the fruits of these plants are appetites of small migratory birds and for this they are planted in fixed stalking for hunting and used as bait in panie and arches.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
The mountain ash is a plant native to the central-northern part of Europe, from Iceland to Russia, and the mountains of the south. It grows at altitudes between 600 and 2,100 meters. In Italy it is present in all regions, from the alpine areas to Sicily and Sardinia. It grows in woods (especially beech and fir woods) and in the rhododendron bushes of the Alps, with optimum in the mountain and subalpine ranges.

Description –
The Sorbus aucuparia is a small tree that can reach 15 meters in height, with a light, expanded-umbrella-shaped foliage. It presents a trunk with silver gray rind, with linear lenticels that tend to flow with age, causing a greater roughness. The buds are tomentose.The leaves are deciduous, alternate, composed of 6 0 7 pairs of lateral segments plus one apical, lanceolate and about 5 cm long, covered by sparse pubescence on the lower page; the margin is serrated. The flowers are gathered in upright corymbs, about 15 cm in diameter, with round, white and yellow stamens. The anthesis is in the final period of spring. The fruits are small subglobose pomes of 6-11 mm of diameter, of red or orange-red color, with homogeneous flesh with few sclereids and 1-6 seeds of 3-6 x 1 , 5-3 mm with elliptical section, smooth, bright, orange.

Cultivation –
The Rowan to be cultivated needs semi-shaded areas and cool places with not too high temperatures; the soils must be acidic and well drained. Being a rustic plant does not need any particular water supply except in the first phase of planting, after which it is satisfied with rainwater. For a good growth of the plant it is advisable to ‘plant to put in good a good amount of mature manure mixed to the same substrate extracted from the hole. The rowan of the birds, like the rowan, reproduces by seed or by semi-woody cutting. The seeds extracted from the berries in winter should be kept in cool and dry places until spring. As for adversities and diseases, Sorbus aucuparia is a very resistant plant; only in case of excessively humid climate can powdery mildew.

Uses and Traditions –
The mountain ash is a European distribution tree present in all the regions of Italy, with three subspecies: Sorbus aucuparia L. subsp. Aucuparia, Sorbus aucuparia subsp. glabrata (Wimm. & Grab.) Hedl. and Sorbus aucuparia subsp. praemorsa (Guss.) Nyman.This plant is often cultivated for ornamental purposes along the streets, especially in mountain areas. The fruits can be used in the preparation of jellies, jams and sauces, but can be toxic if eaten raw because the seeds contain amygdalin (cyanidric derivative). A black dye is obtained from young branches. The wood is precious, hard, compact and elastic, and is used for cabinet-making, sled construction, turning, carving; it is also used for musical instruments (flutes) and in the furniture industry; as fuel gives good firewood.One time this plant was also planted to attract frugivorous birds that are very greedy of its berries.In the popular culture of Friuli, Cadore and Central European, the dried berries of rowan of the birds were used as a repellent for witches , werewolves and demons, and as an “antidote” against malefics and spells. From the berries of the rowan of the birds a diffused food preservative with antifungal action is extracted: the sorbic acid, E200. Sorbyol can also be obtained from the rowan: a sweet-tasting polyol used as a sweetener (E420).

Preparation Mode –
The fruits of Sorbus aucuparia, can be toxic, especially if eaten in quantity, because the seeds inside, if ingested, contain the amygdalin which is a derivative of hydrocyanic acid. However, they can be used in the preparation of jellies, jams and sauces.

Guido Bissanti

Sources
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.- Treben M., 2000. Health from the Pharmacy of the Lord, Advice and experience with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore- Pignatti S., 1982. Flora d ‘Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.- Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (edited by), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.

Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only and do not in any way represent a medical prescription; there is therefore no liability for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

 



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