From the ruins of old crofts to the landscaped grounds of Great Glen house, the rowan holds a special place in Scottish gardens. Iain Macdonald, SNH’s Biodiversity Strategy Officer, tells its story.
I love photographs of isolated croft houses. You know the kind, a bare stone wall, possibly painted white, a red, rusted corrugated iron roof. Perhaps the door or windows are missing or only the bare stone walls remain. In the background there might be a mountain and a tree standing close by. Yes a tree, there is often a tree or two and the chances are that one of them might be a rowan.
Have you ever wondered why there might be a rowan growing beside an old croft house? It is true that sometimes rowan is about the only thing that will grow straight in the middle of an isolated glen. It is also true that wild birds might have carried the seeds and released them when fighting amongst the hens or sheep for grain. However there might be something more to it, something that runs deep.
Rowan has been part of the Scottish identity for a long time, possibly thousands of years. In parts of Scotland it is a well-known fact that rowans will keep witches away. It must be true because my father told me.
Last week, to commemorate our close working relationship, colleagues at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh planted some trees in the grounds of Great Glen House, the shared Scottish headquarters for Scottish Natural Heritage, the Crofting Commission and Bòrd na Gàidhlig. Not just any trees though, rowan trees. Not just any rowan trees, but the Arran whitebeam, Arran service-tree and Catacol whitebeam. Three uniquely Scottish species that first appeared on the island of Arran and which arose from natural crossing between rowan and one of its relatives, the rock whitebeam. What better symbol could there to connect our natural and cultural identity? What better way to protect the headquarters…?
You can read more about Arran whitebeams in our press release.