Sorbus americana is one of the prettiest white flowering, under utilized, red cluster berry producing, Northeastern favorite tree o’ mine. I mean I literally freak out. Have you ever been on a hike with me? I repeat myself in the latin and the common name, I point, I even jump up and down, ok almost jump up and down, but I do usually flap my hands about toward the sky in sheer joy.
Because it is not a tree you find in the low altitudes of the Catskills. It loves the sun, so you won’t find it on the interior of the woods either. You must be at a clearing site, usually at cliff’s edge. It’s a plant on the periphery, literally. Its distribution is the Northeast, mostly found in New England and not present in most of PA or NJ, into Canada moving west to the Great Lakes. Its common throughout the Catskills, but like I said, you gotta get on top the mountains to start to see its lovely almost umbel looking flowers and cluster fruit bearing beauty. I remember spotting them atop Peekamoose, Hunter, Kaaterskill, Panther, and Bearpen. You will also usually find them with mountain maples (Acer spicatum) and striped maples (A. pensylvanicum) of a typical Northeastern hardwood forest (beech-birch-maple).
So not only is it rad because of its tropical looking compound leaves maxing out to seventeen leaflets and its multi-stemmed habit, but YOU and the birds can eats its brilliant orange-red berries. So, here note, PLEASE do not raid the Catskills after reading this. Source Mountain-ash from a reliable native plant nursery such as Sylva, Catskill Native Plant Nursery, or Greenbelt and plant this in your garden! They will be happy at the lower elevations and will persist as a small tree reaching only about 30ft. Berries will stay on the tree through early winter creating amazing year round interest in your garden landscape.
Ok, but you’re into eating weird, wild, perhaps sustainably foraged things like me, right?! First and foremost, you pretty much have to use them in a preserve or cordial recipe. Your cocktails will never be the same! Rich in iron and Vitamin C!! I really want my friends at Aaron Burr Cidery to start a Mountain-Ash hard cider next year. Mountain-ash’s fruit ripen in September and October, prime apple picking time (Andy, you’re taking note here, right?!). Don’t pick them and toss them into your mouth either; the fruits are high in tannins. Also remember, in the wild, they are at the cliff’s edge, making your reach a tad, well, dangerous.
Mountain-ash is sometimes also known as Rowan. Rowan (S. acuparia) is actually mountain-ash’s British cousin. Rowan’s fruits have been used in hedgerow preserves, syrups, and cordials for so long now in Britain; its a shame we have forgotten to do the same. Come May start spotting the flowers which make way for the amazing autumnal fruits and divulge this lesser known Catskill native!