Our Vote for Scotland’s National Tree
Canada has the instantly recognisable maple tree, Japan has the whimsical cherry blossom, and England has the mighty royal oak. However Scotland seems to have missed the proverbial national-tree boat, as it was recently discovered that poor old Scotland is without a tree to call its own. After furious campaigning by a Glasgow tree campaigner, it was announced last month that the Scottish Parliament would begin a consultation process with the public to assign a national tree.
Alex Hamilton began his campaign at the Scottish Parliament’s public petitions committee earlier this year to highlight the importance of Scotland’s vast forests and woodlands. Mr Hamilton also took the opportunity to urge the public to vote for the Scots pine, stating the tree is “the most worthy symbol of our woodlands and of a modern Scotland”. Members of the public are able to vote for any tree they please, however the online consultation will set out presentations promoting the Scots pine, the rowan, the birch and the wych elm.
At the launch of the consultation in September, Environment Minister Paul Weelhouse backed Mr Hamilton’s campaign, stating it has never been more important than now to highlight the vital role trees play in Scottish life. He said: “Some of our woodlands are currently under threat from a number of serious tree health problems. A national tree could be a powerful symbol to help raise the profile of trees and their contribution to so many aspects of today’s society.”
At ScotClans we’re backing the campaign by rooting for the rowan tree. The rowan is an incredibly important tree in Scottish folklore, and coincidentally can be found in a large number of clan badges. Wood from a rowan tree is also strong and resilient, and is the lumber of choice among carvers and whittlers. Rowan makes excellent walking sticks, and spindles and spinning wheels are traditionally made from its wood. It’s also no suprise that the berries can be made into or added to a variety of alcoholic beverages. As well as the popular rowan wine made in the Highlands, a strong spirit can be made from the berries, and rowan berry jelly is still served as an accompaniment to game dishes.
However in times gone by, the rowan was very sacred as it was believed it provided protection against witchcraft. According to Hugh Fife in his book Warriors and Guardians: Native Highland Trees: “Scottish tradition does not allow the use of the tree’s timber, bark, leaves or flowers, nor the cutting of these, except for sacred purposes under special conditions.” The physical characteristics of the tree may have contributed to its protective reputation, including the tiny five pointed star or pentagram on each berry opposite its stalk (the pentagram being an ancient protective symbol). The colour red was deemed to be the best protection against enchantment, and so the rowan’s vibrant display of berries in autumn may have further contributed to its protective abilities, as suggested in the old rhyme: “Rowan tree and red thread / make the witches tine (meaning ‘to lose’) their speed”.
A tree itself was said to afford protection to the dwelling by which it grew, pieces of the tree were carried or sewn into clothes for personal protection from witchcraft, and sprigs or pieces of rowan were used to protect especially cows and their dairy produce from enchantment. There are documented instances as late as the latter half of the twentieth century of people being warned against removing or damaging the rowan trees in the Scottish Highlands and Ireland.
Rowan (sometimes called Mountain Ash) is the badge of Clan Maclachlan and Clan Malcolm. A clan badge is usually a sprig of a specific plant used to identify a member of a particular clan. Badges are usually worn in a bonnet behind the Scottish crest badge, or attached at the shoulder of a lady’s tartan sash. Rowan is also important to Clan Urquhart, whose name is believed to be derived from the Gaelic Airchartdan. This has been variously translated as “upon a rowan wood” (copses of rowan trees are common in Glen Urquhart, the Clan’s place of origin according to oral tradition) and the “fort on the knoll,” perhaps alluding to Castle Urquhart or the previous neolithic forts upon which it was built.
We hope that you get behind us to make the rowan Scotland’s national tree. Voting is open now until early December and can be completed online, by e-mail or post. Check out the Scottish Forrest Commission’s consultation information page by clicking here. You can also view a video from the commission here which showcases the range of benefits Scotland’s forests bring.