I was recently asked what a certain berried shrub was... and I had no idea. I passed the question along to the nearest outdoorsy person who quickly and easily replied, Mountain Ash. I figured this was a perfect opportunity to learn about this beautiful berried bush.
Sorbus americana, called American Mountain Ash, is a small, deciduous, understory tree (sometimes a shrub, which is how I've seen it) that is native to northeastern North America from Newfoundland to Manitoba south to northern Illinois, northern Michigan and New Jersey, as well as further south in the Appalachians to Georgia.
It typically grows to 15-30’ tall with an open rounded crown. It is noted for its attractive form, white spring flowers, serrate compound-pinnate leaves and bright orange-red fall fruit. Mountain Ash has smooth, gray bark which becomes scaly with age. Dense flattened clusters (corymbs to 3-6” across) of very small 5-petaled white flowers (each to 1/4” wide) appear usually in May. Flowers are followed by bright orange-red berries (each to 5/16” diameter) that ripen in late summer and remain on the tree after leaf-drop.
Their berries are attractive to birds and animals, but are too acidic to be eaten fresh off the tree by humans. Berries may be made into jellies. Each odd pinnate leaf (6-10” long) typically has 9-17 sharply serrated, lance shaped, dark green leaflets (2-4” long) with gray-green undersides. Foliage turns yellow in fall. Mountain ashes usually have ash-like leaves, but are members of the rose family, and are not related to true ashes (Fraxinus), which are in the olive family.