Thursday, 22 May 2014

Rowan blossoms for a while

The creamy white blossoms of our rowan, which last week stood out against the dark leaves behind, have already faded. Each of the tiny flowers – just 6-10 mm across – is now edged with brown; the flat disc formed from many such flowers, and which is known as a corymb, has taken on the appearance of a discarded handkerchief, soiled by mud. The passing of the rowan blossom seems particularly early this year, even allowing for its early emergence, and I wonder if the low overnight temperatures have brought about the change.

The rowan is a tree from my childhood, ever present on the sandy heathlands not far from home. Its presence in the garden here reminds me of those days and planting a native rowan here seemed to offer a connection with the landscape that I left behind when I first moved to Norfolk nearly a quarter of a century ago. There are many cultivated varieties of rowan and its near relatives, some with berries of different colours and others adopting a different growth form, but for me it is the richly red berries of the native form, delivered in autumn, that remain important. These provide food for birds, including the first blackbirds of autumn, and for many different insects too.

I feel somewhat cheated by the loss of the rowan blossom so early into the season. It often attracts interesting insects and this year there is the sense that these have yet to get going. A run of warm days, to follow on from the cold and wet, is likely to boost the numbers of insects on the wing and nectaring on the available blossom. Only time will tell just how well the spring’s blossom will translate into autumn fruit.

Some wild foragers harvest the berries of rowan. These are unpleasant when eaten raw, and there is some evidence of side effects, particularly in children, but the berries can be cooked to make a pleasant-tasting jelly, though not one I have ever tried myself. The berries do have an appealing smell, as does the blossom, and I’d recommend taking a sniff if you ever get the chance. To my nose, the berries smell of apple and take me back to autumn afternoons on the heath.

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