Mountain Ash (Sorbus spp.)
Two species of mountain ash are native to Prince Edward Island American and showy. Both are quite common and can grow to the size of a small tree. Small white flowers are borne in flat-topped clusters in May and early June. Clumps of berries turn orange in late August and September, often hanging on through most of the winter. Leaves are alternate and compound, with 11-17 leaflets. Leaflets of the American mountain ash are long and pointed, while those of the showy are more rounded at the base. Buds are dark, sticky and can be slightly hairy. Bark is smooth and grayish-brown.
A common sight along fence-lines and windbreaks, mountain ash is also found along hillsides or forest clearings. It prefers full sunlight and rich, deep soil, but will grow under a variety of conditions. It will not tolerate flooding, but can stand some salt spray.
Gather berries in late September and remove pulpy flesh by hand. Each berry contains up to 10 tiny seeds. Plant in nursery beds and cover lightly with soil. Seeds will germinate the second spring and grow quite quickly. At Macphail Woods, our first year’s growth averaged 16 inches (40 cm).
Berries are a preferred food source of ruffed grouse, gray catbird, American robin, eastern bluebird, European starling, cedar waxwing, common grackle, northern oriole, evening grosbeak and pine grosbeak. Crops are fairly regular and the ability to hang on throughout winter makes the berries excellent emergency food. See ourAttracting Birds in Winter page for more information. Beaver eat the bark and snowshoe hare browse on winter twigs. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers drill larger specimens for sweet sap.
Areas of Usage:
This is another shrub well-suited for use around the home, since it has attractive foliage, flowers and fruit and is a food source for many bird species. The leaves are poisonous, so this might be a consideration if there are young children present. The fruit can be eaten by humans and is rich in iron and Vitamin C. A few frosts improve the taste, but the berries are most often used in jellies. These shrubs can be used in group plantings or as individual specimens. Mountain ash are suitable along roadsides, in windbreaks,and especially around ponds and open stream-banks. They are also useful when converting areas of old field white spruce to a mixed forest. The shrubs provide shade and protection for young trees, and attract wildlife to the area. Plant one or two in openings along with a mixture of other shrubs and trees.
Showy Mountain Ash is common throughout the province. It is a small, often bushy tree, seldom over 30 feet high with a diameter of over 6 inches, but may, under suitable conditions, grow much larger. It is commonly found on moist sites along banks of streams and on the margins of swamps. It is quite common in old pastures and along fences. It grows singly or in small clumps with red maple, yellow and white birch, balsam fir, whiteand black spruce. Around this province it is frequently a low shrub. The wood is of no commercial importance. However, the tree is sometimes, used for ornamental planting.
Like the showy mountain ash, the American mountain ash is found throughout PEI. It is a small tree, often bushy or shrub-like, rarely exceeding 30 feet in height and 8 inches in diameter. The trunk is usually short with a flat-topped crown made up of stout ascending branches. It can be easily separated from the showy mountain ash buy its small flowers and fruit, and it’s narrow, lance-shaped, fine-toothed leaflets. It prefers rich open sites but is not confined to these. It never grows in pure stands but is found growing alone or in small clumps along the borders of streams, margins of swamps and in damp woods. Like it close relative, the wood has no commercial importance. It is used in ornamental planting but it is not nearly as handsome or hardy as the showy mountain ash.