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Yesterday, I left you hanging at the end of my “Grandma Says” column.
I teased about something I learned last summer. During my long-overdue trip to Newfoundland, I met a lovely man by the name of Douglas Spracklin. He came to my book signing at the mall and we had a wonderful chat. We talked about how so many of my grandmother’s weather expressions were very similar to those he grew up hearing in Newfoundland.
A few days after I returned home, I received an email from Mr. Spracklin. He wanted me to know that, to his knowledge, there were no mountain ash trees in Newfoundland but perhaps the dogberries were close enough to make the call on the winter ahead.
I’m so glad Mr. Spracklin took time to send the note. I snooped around and learned that my mountain ash is also known as a rowantree, a rowan berry, roundwood, mountain sumac, winetree, dogberry, service tree and wild ash.
After talking to a friend about it, I learned that most Cape Bretoners refer to the tree as a dogberry tree.
Regardless of what you call it, the dogberry tree is lovely. Its dark green leaves turn yellow, orange and reddish-purple in the fall. Showy, white spring flowers are followed by large clusters of flame-red, berry-like fruit.
This tree is an important source of food for many small birds and mammals including catbirds, thrushes and waxwings. The tree also attracts butterflies, bees and, every once in a while, a hungry moose. The fruit persists through winter and has been known to intoxicate birds after it ferments in a few fall frosts.
The American mountain ash was first cultivated in 1811. The bark was used as an anti-malarial medicine by pioneer doctors because of its close resemblance to the quinine tree.
The next time you’re out for a walk, look around. I’m sure you’ll spot one. There are a few in my neighbourhood and they are loaded with clusters of tiny red fruit.
That’s very good news for both the birds and winter sports enthusiasts alike!
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