Japanese Mountain-Ash

Japanese Mountain-Ash – Sorbus commixta

Japanese Mountain-Ash in fall colorsMorton Arboretum acc. 28-94*3, from seed, is 16 years old

Family Rosaceae – Rose Family; Fruit Trees
Japanese Mountain ash is native to the Far eastern Russian Federation, Japan and Korea.

Japanese mountain-ash is a medium sized (height 20-30 feet, width 20-30 feet) deciduous tree, with a rounded crown and moderate growth rate. It grows best on moist, well-drained soil, in full sun. Its compound leaves have between 11-15 opposite, serrate leaflets change to a deep purple or red in autumn. White flowers appear in early summer on 4-6″ corymb; orange to red fruit appears in autumn. This tree is hardy in USDA zones 5-7 [1].

Japanese Mountain-Ash orange fall foliage

Fruit provides palatable browse for many animals and birds, but is not suitable for human consumption, except, perhaps for various folk remedies; the plant is not toxic [1,5]. Recent scientific studies indicate methanol extract of Sorbus commixta cortex prevents vascular inflammation in rats with a high fructose-induced metabolic syndrome [6].

Japanese Mountain-Ash in summer

Japanese mountain ash and related species (most often the European Mountain ash, Sorbus aucuparia) are sometimes referred to in folklore as “Rowan” trees, but this use has almost disappeared from the modern lexicon. The rowans were thought by the Celts (and probably back to the Neolithic cultures) of The British Isles to have magical properties.

“Mountain ash, 1804, from rowan-tree, rountree (1548), northern English and Scottish, from a Scandinavian source (cf. O.N. reynir, Swed. Ronn “the rowan”), ultimately from the root of red, in reference to the berries. The rowan “was the tree most often credited with protective magical powers against all effects of witchcraft, not merely in Celtic areas but throughout Britain.” — Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore

American Mountain-ash was used extensively by Native Americans for various purposes:

  • Algonquin, Quebec, Drug (Cold Remedy); Infusion of inner bark taken for colds.
  • Algonquin, Tete-de-Boule Drug (Psychological Aid); Buds and inner bark fibers boiled and used for depression.
  • Iroquois Drug (Gastrointestinal Aid); Fruit used to facilitate digestion.
  • Malecite Drug (Analgesic); Infusion of bark used for pain after childbirth.
  • Micmac Drug (Gastrointestinal Aid); Infusion of root taken for colic.
  • Ojibwa Drug (Venereal Aid); Infusion of root bark taken for gonorrhea.
  • Penobscot Drug (Emetic); Plant used as an emetic.
  • Algonquin, Quebec Food (Fruit); Fruit used for food.
  • Ojibwa Fiber (Canoe Material); Wood used to make ribs for canoes, snowshoe frames.


  1. North Carolina State University Consumer Horticulture
  2. SUSDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program Sorbus commixta
  3. USDA National Agricultural Library
  4. Missouri Botanical Garden – Sorbus americana
  5. Tropicos  Sorbus commixta Hedl.
  6. Kang DG, Sohn EJ, Lee AS, Kim JS, Lee DH, Lee HS Methanol extract of Sorbus commixta cortex

Family Rosaceae – Rose Family; Fruit Trees
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