The Garden Guide

Book: A treatise on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, adapted to North America,1841
Chapter: Section IV. Deciduous Ornamental Trees

Character of mountain ash roan tree

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Twenty-five feet is about the average height of the Mountain ash in this country. Abroad it grows more vigorously; and in Scotland, where it is best known by the name of the Roan or Rowan tree, it sometimes reaches the altitude of 35 or 40 feet. The lower classes throughout the whole of Britain, for a long time attributed to its branches the power of being a sovereign charm against witches; and Sir Thomas Lauder informs us that this superstition is still in existence in many parts of the Highlands, as well as in Wales. It is probable that this tree was a great favorite with the Druids; for it is often seen growing near their ancient mystical circles of stones. The dairymaid, in many parts of England, still preserves the old custom of driving her cows to pasture with a switch of the roan tree, which she believes has the power to shield them from all evil spells* (* Lightfoot, Flora Scotica.). "Evelyn mentions that it is customary in Wales to plant this tree in churchyards; and Miss Kent in her Sylvan Sketches, makes the following remarks:-'In former times this tree was supposed to be possessed of the property of driving away witches and evil spirits; and this property is alluded to in one of the stanzas of a very ancient song, called the Laidley Worm of Spindleton's Heughs. 'Their spells were vain; the boys return'd To the Queen in sorrowful mood, Crying that "witches have no power Where there is rowan-tree wood?" "The last line of this stanza leads to the true reading of a stanza in Shakspeare's tragedy of Macbeth. The sailor's wife, on the witch's requesting some chestnuts, hastily answers, 'A rown-tree, witch !'-but many of the editions have it, 'aroint thee, witch!' which is nonsense, and evidently a corruption."* (* Arboretum et Fruticetum, p. 918.)