Oh how I love some mythology that comes along with my favorite trees. Out front we have a Rowan tree, Sorbus aucuparia. It’s called a Mountain Ash around here, but I prefer Rowan as it’s an Old Norse name for tree, or raun. Celtics also called it the Traveler’s Tree. The tree has a lot of other names too: variations of Quicken, Ran/Roan/Roden, Sorb apple, Whispering tree, Whitty, Wiggen, Wiggy…wait, what?
But my favorite of its nicknames is Thor’s helper. According to legends written at Anna Franklin’s website, in Scandinavian mythology:
Thor was trying to get to the land of the Frost Giants when an evil sorcerer caused the River Vimur to overflow just as he was trying to ford it. A rowan tree bent down so that he could grasp it and scramble to safety; consequently the rowan became known as ‘Thor’s helper’ or ‘Thor’s tree’. The tree may have been conceived of as Thor’s wife Sif who is usually associated with the golden grain of the harvest, though rowan fruit matures at the same time. Sometimes, the rowan is said to have sprung from a lightening strike, and to embody the lightening. Norse ships had one plank of rowan wood inserted into the hull to protect them from the wrath of Ran, the sea goddess, in the belief that Thor would look after his own.
Also, because the wood of the tree is very thick, it’s good for making walking sticks, magician staves, and druid staffs. I need one of those!
Rowan trees typically grow their fruit, little orange pomes, in late summer. We’ve not really had much of warm summer, but I noticed today that the berries are here now.
The species is native in Europe, western Asia, and north Africa in the mountains of Morocco. I’ve seen it quite a bit in British Columbia too. There’s a good deal of information here about its habitat and relationships with forest plants and animals.