Cardinal Royal Mountain AshSorbus aucuparia 'Michred'
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Sorbus aucuparia 'Michred'
Outdoor Growing zone
The Cardinal Royal Mountain Ash is an upright, small, deciduous tree, reaching about 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide. It matures quickly and even young trees produce big crops of bright red berries throughout fall and into the winter. These are eventually taken by songbirds, or they can be harvested and turned into jellies, juices and chutneys. Clusters of white flowers develop in May and this tree is self-pollinating and very reliable in always giving a big berry crop. The leaves turn yellow and red in fall. A great feature for the fall, and excellent for new gardens in cold zones.
Plant the Cardinal Royal Mountain Ash in full sun, in any well-drained soil, preferably one that is moist and neutral to acidic. It is incredibly cold-resistant, growing even in zone 2, and doesn’t enjoy areas with hot, humid summers. Once established it is drought resistant. It doesn’t need any special care or fancy pruning, and it is generally free of serious pests but not entirely resistant to fire blight.
In cooler parts of the country choices of flowering trees are limited. While there are wonderful shade trees, flowers on trees, and fall berries too, are not as common. If you are the kind of person who likes to identify trees from their leaves, you might well say ‘ash tree’ when shown the leaves of the Cardinal Royal Mountain Ash. You would be surprised, then, to see the big clusters of bright red berries on this tree in late summer and fall, or the flat clusters of white flowers in May. This tree is much more closely related to roses and apple trees than ash, despite its name. It is a handsome small tree, perfect for a smaller garden, or planted at the back of larger beds. It is also reputed to ward off witches and evil spirits, and protect cattle from becoming sick, so you never know when that could come in handy. The berries aren’t edible raw, but cooked they make interesting syrups, jams and chutneys, more well-known in Germany and Russia, and are even used for making herbal beers. They are packed with Vitamins C and A, as well as anthocyanins and other valuable organic compounds.
The Cardinal Royal Mountain Ash is a small deciduous tree growing to about 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide. It can be trained as a single stem or grown as a broader, multi-stem tree. The upright, oval crown makes an attractive form. The young bark is yellow-gray, maturing to a smooth and then rougher dark-gray, with older trunks shedding small flakes of old bark. The leaves are pinnate, with up to 11 leaflets arranged along a central leaf-stem, and in clusters on older stems. The whole leaf is about 8 inches long, and the leaflets are 2½ inches long, and they alternate along the stem, while in true ash they are in pairs. The color is a rich, dark green, with a gray-green, felted underside, and serrated edges. Iin fall they turn yellow, or red, with the best colors coming during dry falls.
The flowers are small, about ¼ inch across, with 5 white petals and a center of golden stamens. They are clustered in flattened heads, often containing about 200 flowers, and generally appear in May. This tree can be relied on to produce a large crop of berries every year, even when young, and it’s self-pollinating. The berries are about ¼ inch in diameter and a bright, rich red – much stronger and more showy than the typical orange to orange-red color that is usually seen in this tree. Berries begin to ripen in late summer, forming large clusters that hang on the tree for a long time. The show lasts all through fall and into winter, although eventually they will be taken by grateful birds. For the best flavors and edibility, pick fruit for cooking after it has been frozen by a frost or two.
Fast-growing, the Cardinal Royal Mountain Ash is a terrific tree for a new garden, quickly producing berries and making an attractive showing. It is relatively short-lived (for a tree), generally lasting about 50 years and never more than 80. So it’s a good tree to plant to enjoy while larger trees grow around it – by the time they are mature your mountain ash will be past it’s best. Use it as a lawn specimen, at the edge of woodlands, on slopes and among rocks, or at the back of large shrub beds. Plant alone or in groups of 3 to 7 trees.
This tree is hardy in very cold areas, down to zone 2. It doesn’t like growing where the summers are hot and humid, so in the east it is only reliable to zone 6. In the northwest it will grow in warmer zones, to zone 8, but not in drier parts of the west.
Plant your Cardinal Royal Mountain Ash in full sun, in most soils that are well-drained. It favors slightly acidic, moist soils, and prefers areas with cool, damper summers. Avoid very alkaline soils and wet places. Once established it is reliably drought tolerant during ordinary summer dryness in cooler zones.
No particular care is needed for this tree, and it is generally free of serious pests. It can suffer from fire blight if grown near apple or pear trees which are infected.
The mountain ash, or rowan tree, Sorbus aucuparia, is native to most of Europe, Russia and Siberia. It grows in low and high areas, and it is often the last deciduous tree at higher altitudes, surviving as a stunted bush in sub-arctic vegetation. A number of forms have been developed over the years, with different berry colors. The variety called ‘Michred’ was created by the prolific tree breeder Frank Schmidt in the 1980s, at his nursery in Boring, Oregon. It was probably a selection from a large batch of seedlings, and chosen for its neat, upright form and especially for those brilliant scarlet-red berries – the color worn by cardinals of the Catholic Church. In 1993 J. Frank Schmidt & Son registered the trademark name Cardinal Royal® for this outstanding tree.
Fast-growing – cold-hardy – handsome – reliable berry crop – what’s not to like? If you garden in colder areas you deserve this tree, and it belongs in every garden where it can be grown. Especially if you are building a new garden it’s a great choice. But order now – it always pays to plant varieties developed for extra-beauty, but that makes them harder to find, so these trees will soon be gone.