In 1826, 'Concerned of Ifitherslaek' (at least let's call him that) wrote to the editor of Table Book of Daily Recreation and Information Concerning Remarkable Men, Manners, Times, Seasons, Solemnities, Merry-Makings, Antiquities and Novelties Forming a Complete History of the Year.
C of I chastised us all for not celebrating the virtues of the Mountain Ash, or Wiggen Tree, being primarily that no witch will come near it. I can confirm this is true because since I arrived in April I haven't seen a single witch in Kew Gardens, or nearby, and their is plenty of Sorbus around.
Sorbus is one of the many rose family (Rosaceae), members in fruit at the moment. The more commonly used common name is Rowan, particularly for Sorbus aucuparia, which flourishes inside and outside Kew Gardens - I was enjoying the bright red berries flash past us on the District Line as we headed westward, a reminder that not all the underground (tube) is underground.
But back to our correspondent from Ifitherslaek, who says that "the smallest twig which might cross the path of one of these communers with the powers of darkness would as effectually stop her career, however wild it might be, or however intent she might be on the business of evil, as did the key-stane of the Bridge of Doon stop the fiendish crew that pursued poor Tam O'Shanter and his luckless mare Maggie".
I'm not familier with the Bridge of Doon (which reminds me of Gene Hackman's classic line in The Unforgiven, calling English Bob the 'Duck of Death'), Tam or his mare Maggie, but the Sorbus twig sounds like a powerful force. Witches are apparently most annoying when you are making butter or milking a cow.
Our man from Ifitherslaek says "should the auld witch call at any farmhouse during the operation of churning, and be suffered to depart without a sop being thrown to her, in the shape of a small print of butter, you will be sure to havt many a weary hour of labour the next time you churn, before butter can be obtained. And, therefore, to prevent the old, beldam introducing herself into the churn, the churn-staff must be made of the Wiggen Tree and you will be effectually freed from her further interference in that case."
His mother, he says, carries a stick of Sorbus and a hare's foot at all times to ward away witches, and it is his firm recommendation that we all do the same.
I should add that other, clearly less reliable, sources on the internet imply that the Rowan is a tree of ill repute, venerated by Celtic Druids and various folk associated with witchcraft in the 15th and 16th centuries. I'll leave it to you to decide if the Sorbus is on the side of good or evil.
Back here in Kew Gardens - free of witches - there are lots of Sorbus, Crataegus and Malus in fruit. I have to include a couple of stand outs The first is Malus yunnanensis from...the Yunnan Province of China. Love the colour in these fruits.
The second is Crataegus armena from...Armenia (this is quite simple isn't it...). Again, lovely colour.
And finally, Crataegus x ellwangeriana from...well, the USA apparently... Back to standard red but very attractive.
Most of the Rosaceae are in the western part of the Gardens, south and north of Love Lane (originally the dividing line between the two Royal estates) which is itself lined with berried trees of the Holly kind. Ilex is of course in an entirely different family, the Aquifoliaceae, and here is a nice Ilex aquifolium 'Pyramidalis' trying to grow into a pyramidal shape.