*from “Marie’s Wedding “
From: An Economic History of the English Garden (2019), by Roderick Floud:
“…there are actually remarkably few ‘endemic’ English plants – only forty-eight species, in fact – that reached Britain before the land bridge joining it to the rest of the European continent was submerged about eight thousand years ago. Almost all of them are varieties of Euphrasia or eyebright, Limonium or sea-lavender, and Sorbus, the whitebeam, rowan (see image) or mountain ash. The vast majority of the trees, shrubs and flowers that ornament our gardens are not strictly of native origin, but have been imported by human hands or as the result of seeds blown by the wind – or carried by birds – across the English Channel.
Plants have been deliberately imported for millennia: the grapevine by the Romans, rosemary in the fourteenth century, and firs, pines and plane trees by the end of the sixteenth. John Harvey dates an acceleration in the process to the reign of Henry VIII, but it was in the succeeding century, as European exploration pushed further and further into other parts of the world, that the flow of new species really began, growing to a flood in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries…”
“The European rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) has a long tradition in European mythology and folklore. It was thought to be a magical tree and give protection against malevolent beings. The tree was also called “wayfarer’s tree” or “traveller’s tree” because it supposedly prevents those on a journey from getting lost.
British folklorists of the Victorian era reported the folk belief in apotropaic powers of the rowan-tree, in particular in the warding off of witches. Such a report is given by Edwin Lees (1856) for the Wyre Forest in the English West Midlands. Sir James Frazer (1890) reported such a tradition in Scotland, where the tree was often planted near a gate or front door.
According to Frazer, birds’ droppings often contain rowan seeds, and if such droppings land in a fork or hole where old leaves have accumulated on a larger tree, such as an oak or a maple, they may result in a rowan growing as an epiphyte on the larger tree. Such a rowan is called a “flying rowan” and was thought of as especially potent against witches and black magic, and as a counter-charm against sorcery. In 1891, Charles Godfrey Leland also reported traditions of rowan’s apotropaic powers against witches in English folklore, citing the Denham Tracts (collected between 1846 and 1859). Rowan also serves as protection against fairies. For example, according to Thomas Keightley mortals could safely witness fairy rades (mounted processions held by the fairies each year at the onset of summer) by placing a rowan branch over their doors.
In Neo-Druidism, the rowan is known as the “portal tree”. It is considered the threshold, between this world and otherworld, or between here and wherever you may be going, for example, it was placed at the gate to a property, signifying the crossing of the threshold between the path or street and the property of someone. According to Elen Sentier, “Threshold is a place of both ingress (the way in) and egress (the way out). Rowan is a portal, threshold tree offering you the chance of ‘going somewhere … and leaving somewhere.” ”