The European rowan (S. aucuparia) has a long tradition in European mythology and folklore. It was thought to be a magical tree and protection against malevolent beings.
The name “rowan” is derived from the Old Norse name for the tree, raun. Linguists believe that the Norse name is ultimately derived from a proto-Germanic word *raudnian meaning “getting red” and which referred to the red foliage and red berries in the autumn. Rowan is one of the most familiar wild trees in the British Isles, and has acquired numerous English folk names, for example, Mountain ash, Quickbane, Whispering tree, Witch wood and Witchbane, Many of these can be easily linked to the mythology and folklore surrounding the tree. In Gaelic, it is caoran, or Rudha-an (red one, pronounced quite similarly to English “rowan”).
The density of the rowan wood makes it very usable for walking sticks and magician’s staves. This is why druid staffs are said, for example, traditionally, to have been made out of rowan wood, and its branches were often used in dowsing rods and magic wands. Rowan was carried on vessels to avoid storms, kept in houses to guard against lightning, and even planted on graves to keep the deceased from haunting. It was also used to protect one from witches.
Often birds’ droppings 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 their magic, and as a counter-charm.
In Finland and Sweden, the number of berries on the trees was used as a predictor of the snow cover during winter.
This tree carries a heavy load of folklore but above all it is a truly beautiful tree.