How to choose a rowan or whitebeam tree for your garden

The genus Sorbus contains the Rowans or Mountain Ash trees, and the closely-related Whitebeams.  All are fairly small upright trees, usually less than 5m high after 10 years, and suitable for most situations.

Given their versatility and compact size, the main criteria for choosing a rowan or whitebeam comes down to the colour of the fruit clusters. However leaf colours and shape / form are also worth considering.

 

Rowan trees with red berries

These include the common Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and forms with slightly larger berries such as Asplenifolia and Gibbsii.

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Rowan trees with yellow or golden berries

The brightest yellow berries can be found on Wisley Gold and Autumn Spire, while Amber Light and Copper Kettle have dull golden hues, and Joseph Rock has pale lemon-yellow berries.

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Rowan trees with pink berries

These rowans have berries that change from white to pink, or from pink to white as autumn progresses. Pink Charm has perhaps the deepest pink berries, but Pink Ness, Leonard Messel and Glendoick Spire are also very attractive.

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Rowan trees with white berries

Some of these start out with purple or dark berries, which fade to white in the autumn as the leaves start to fall. Glendoick White Baby is the obvious choice, but look out for the species Sorbus cashmiriana and Sorbus pseudovilmorinii.

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Trees with interesting summer leaf colours

This is where the Whitebeams score over the Rowans, their summer leaves have blue and grey hues which are more interesting than the plain greens of the Rowans.

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Trees with strong autumn leaf colours

Most rowans and whitebeams show some autumn colour but these ones are particularly noteworthy.

Golden orange red

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Bronze or purple

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General autumnal tints

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Rowan trees with a columnar form

Many rowans have a naturally upright habit, but there are several fastigiate (columnar) forms, which produce a striking effect whether planted singly or in groups. These include Autumn Spire (yellow berries), Fingerprint (red berries) and Glendoick Spire (pink berries).

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Our recommendations

If you still can't decide, here are some rowans and whitebeams that we particularly like. We think these are good trees which offer something more than the sum of their parts.

 

The Common Rowan

The traditional hardy Mountain Ash, with its slender upright form, autumn leaf colours, and bright red berries. A good choice for poor soils or difficult climates.

 

Joseph Rock

Ticks all the boxes for a small garden tree - a compact, pleasing appearance, easy to grow, pretty yellow berries, and one of the best rowans for autumn colour.

 

Lutescens

The definitive whitebeam, with beautiful grey-green leaves which take on russet hues in the autumn, contrasting with orange berries. Makes a good specimen tree for the larger garden.

 

Olympic Flame

A small rowan, aptly named for its intense orange / red autumn leaf colours and bright red fruitlets.

 

Pink Pagoda

This is one of the best of the pink-fruited rowans, the fruitlets are pink over the summer, fading to a delicate white as winter arrives