Tree of the month: Sorbus commixta
Japanese rowan - Sorbus commixta
As autumn arrives and the leaves begin to turn, this time of year is also a wonderful time to explore the diversity of fruits found around the arboretum. One of our favorite ornamentals noted for its fruit is the Japanese rowan, Sorbus commixta, which is laden in glossy berries that are ripening from orange to red. Native to eastern Asia, the tips of its elegant pinnate leaves are beginning to turn a spectacular shade of scarlet, peaking a little later than its fruits, though still among the first of our trees to show autumn tint.
In parts of its range, local people have found many medicinal uses for the stems and fruits of this small tree, several of which are supported by scientific studies. Its wood is dense and, reputedly, difficult to burn. The Japanese common name ‘nanakamado’ translates to seven-oven, as it is said that even if cooked seven times, it remains unburnt.
One of our finest specimens is close to the Great Oak Hall. This tree was grown from fruits collected from Mt. Kurohime-yama in Japan in 2006. A younger specimen collected from Mt. Tsurugi in 2014, can be found near Maple Loop in Silk Wood.
We also currently grow two S. commixta cultivars here at Westonbirt. Two specimens of ‘Embley,’ noted for a more fastigiate form, can be found in the Old Arboretum, on Main Drive and Holford Ride, respectively. ‘Serotina’ can also be found on Holford Ride. This selection comes into leaf and flower around two weeks later than the typical form, ripening and colouring later in autumn too.