The rowan tree is a species of fruit plant, which comes from a large area including southern Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa. In reality, the best and most favorable pedoclimatic conditions of adaptation to this plant are those of the Mediterranean environment, to which Italy also belongs. It is a fruit plant known and appreciated since the most remote times in Italy, but it has always been considered as a marginal species.
The ancient Romans already knew how to use the rowan tree as a species of fruit plant, appreciating it both for its majesty and for its productive capacity.
In Italy, since ancient times, rowan was cultivated both for the production of fruit and wood, considering that the species is still present in marginal areas, next to farms, on roadsides, fields and in uncultivated areas. In fact, examples of specialized plants are rare and unusual, in modern times, while there are widespread examples in isolated and spontaneous crops.
As it is a plant which has an extremely slow growth in the time, probably due to the frenzy of our days and the lack of patience, nowadays this species is no more cultivated neither for the production of the fruits nor for ornamental purposes. There are few plants in the whole of Italy, as evidence of the fact that it becomes even more indispensable to recover and enhance this species, which, with good reason, can be included in the category of “forgotten fruits”.
Rowan: Characteristics Of The Species
The rowan belongs to the order of the Rosales, the Rosaceae family and the subfamily of the Pomoidea.
The most interesting species in terms of fruit production is the domestic rowan (or Sorbus domestica). Another species very common in the areas at the foot of the hills is the bird rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), used for its ornamental function and for wood, but characterized by bitter and astringent fruits.
The domestic rowan tree is a small tree of considerable size (it can reach a height of 20-25 m), very slow in growth and very long-lived, reaching over 200 years.
The plant is formed by an erect trunk, with dark grey bark. The foliage, on the contrary, is round and formed by open branches. The leaves are formed by 11-21 serrated and briefly pointed leaflets, with the upper page dark green, while the lower one is glaucous and pubescent green.
The flowers, which grow in May, are small, white in color, united in corymb-shaped inflorescences carried at the apex of the year’s branches. The flowers give rise to small pomi called sorbs, a fruit similar in appearance to apples or pears.
At harvest time the sorbs are inedible, because they are characterized by a pulp rich in astringent tannins and devoid of any scent, with the color of the greenish-yellow skin suffused with pink or red and sometimes covered with rust.
In order to become edible, the fruits of the rowan tree must undergo a process of softening, which allows the flesh to soften, thanks to a slight fragmentation, which reaches its peak with the accentuation of the skin color, which turns purple red, and with the transformation of the tannins into sugars.
Therefore, the sorb jam is much used.
Germoplasma and Local Varieties
The varieties grown and sold are divided into two subspecies according to the shape of the fruit, which can be either a small apple or a small pear.
For this we will have the:
- Sorbus subspecies malifera (rowanberry apple).
- Rowan subspecies pyrifera (sorb pear).
Cultivation Needs Of The Plant
The plant has modest needs in terms of climate and soil, it tolerates well the low winter temperatures, is able to adapt to all types of soil, even those of alkaline nature, tendentially heavy and also characterized by extreme dryness.
The rowan can be propagated by seed or by grafting of the species on rootstocks such as hawthorn or quince, in order to anticipate the entry into production of the plant. Plants grown from seed have a very slow development and enter into production around the 15th year of the plant’s life.
In case you want to carry out a grafting, it is good to equip yourself and carry out the delicate operation with the appropriate tools, through the use of a small knife for grafting, sharp and sterilized, to avoid the appearance of infections and not make the plant suffer with incisions too large or deep than necessary.
The grafting of hawthorn or on quince allows to shorten the unproductive period, even if, however, the harvesting takes place around the 10th year of age. No pruning operations are generally carried out for rowan trees, except for a few cuts during the rearing phase. However, the plant has a natural propensity to alternate, so that years of discharge may follow years of charge, with even considerable production of fruit.
However, as obviously for the grafting, it is good to equip oneself with pruning shears, shears or loppers, always well sharpened and disinfected, as a true professional would do. Those that Portale del Verde has decided to advise you on amazon, have indispensable characteristics for pruning, such as the adjustable cutting angle and the double ring nut that allows you to cut a branch several times without losing the cutting position. Click below and buy it now!
When And How Do You Harvest Rowanberry Fruits?
Fruits ripen between the month of September and October, but they are usually eaten over-ripe or half-ripe from the month of November. In fact, there is an old saying that says “With time and with straw, the rowan tree and rowan tree ripens”, which is a concrete testimony to the fact that you should not be in a hurry, but you need to know how to wait for the fruit to ripen slowly over time.
Harvesting is done by hand, but the fruit must undergo a process of ripening in order to become edible.
Fruit Ripening In Straw
In the Italian countryside, a widespread system to speed up the process of straw harvesting consisted in putting the fruit in the straw, as in this way the heat emitted favors the transformation of the tannins into sugars, transforming the pulp into a dark color, so as to be able to enjoy their particular scent and aroma.
Sorbas are fruits that belong to the so-called lost and forgotten flavors and since they do not undergo any chemical treatment, they are much sought after and fall into the category of the so-called ecological fruit.
The fruits are very rich in carbohydrates (glucose and fructose), organic acids (mainly citric acid), alcohols, soluble fibres, vitamin C, tannins with astringent characteristics, and bitter substances from which the name of the fruit derives, such as sorbine, sorbic acid and sorbotanic acid.
Rowan: Use And Properties
The fruits can be eaten fresh or alternatively used to make cider, sorb jams, liqueurs and sauces. In the past, the fruits were threaded into a long rosary-shaped string and spread out to dry on racks, from which flour could be made for bread production, especially during periods of famine. The production of cider, very well known in ancient times, was obtained by simply fermenting the pulp of the cider fruit.
It is no coincidence that in 1600 Vincenzo Tanara claimed that: “Few fruits are equal in usefulness to this one, offering bread, wine and companatico”.
In phytotherapy the fruits have astringent, diuretic, cleansing, refreshing and invigorating properties. In addition, the juice of sorbs is used in cosmetics to normalize oily skin.
The young wood of the sorb is used to extract a dark liquid capable of dyeing the tissues. The tannin extracted from the wood and leaves can be used for tanning the leather. The wood, being very hard and compact, is also used for cabinet-making. In fact, because of its hardness and the property of being fine, it could also be used for the production of weapons such as bows and crossbows, or to obtain supports for the rows of vines, production of presses or carpentry benches.
Being also a very decorative plant due to the abundant presence of fruits, the rowan can also be used for ornamental purposes rather than as a fruit species, being also very suitable for organic cultivation and for the enhancement of areas considered marginal.
Finally, especially in Northern Europe, the rowan tree was a species that was planted near houses, because it was thought to ward off lightning and unclean spirits.