Nursery Notes: Mountain ash trees add welcome winter colour

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A short walk through the arboretum this week revealed some spectacular winter interest on the mountain ash trees. Two colours, light orange and dark red. One per tree, and each loaded with berries! These trees seem to grow just about anywhere in the valley. However, there are several different forms sold in the nursery.

European mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia), sometimes called the rowan tree, can have a few different forms owing to the broad growing range it has overseas. We sell the Russian form some years as it tends to be tall and narrow, fitting well into a smaller lot. Another form I’ve carried in recent years has been the edible variety, having large red fruit that can be cooked, and great fall colour, too. These trees don’t tend to get overly large but perhaps top out around 35 feet with a round crown.

The North American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) can also have orangey-red berries and a similar size and shape. A third variety is quite common, the showy mountain ash (Sorbus decora), which can be a slightly smaller tree with many attractive qualities. Mountain ash have nice soft green leaves, festive fall colour and spectacular winter interest.

The oak leaf mountain ash tree is one more kind commonly offered for sale. It is a hybrid that offers a very symmetrical shape. Leaves are almost silvery and shaped like small oak leaves. It has nice fruit and fall colour. As these trees are grafted, you don’t have to worry that your tree will have a surprise shape or berry colour.

Overwintering cedar waxwings love the berries. A large flock of them completely devoured the berries off one tree by the highway in a matter of a few days. It had been bent to the ground since fall with so much fruit.

If you were looking for smaller shrubs with berries for winter interest, in past years we have carried the pink-berried snowberry “Marlene”, purple-berried beautyberry shrubs, two varieties of the firethorn shrub (Pyrocantha), “Teton” and “Mohave”, as well as the Christmas favorite, holly. Native plants like Oregon grape are often confused with holly because of their equally attractive glossy green foliage, but their winter berry colour is a great blue-purple. In any case, this is a great time of year to plan out a few more horticultural wonders for your garden. Look for plants with an interesting shape, cool bark and of course colourful berries.

Here’s wishing you a great start to the new year!

Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 in Erickson.