When it comes to fashion, what’s hot and what’s not changes more often than the seasons. Fortunately, plants don’t go in and out of style as quickly as clothing, but they do change their accessories on a seasonal basis. No matter what’s in or out, mountain ash is one plant that’s always chic because it knows how to accessorize – especially in fall with its bright orange fruits.

Ash white flowers

Come spring, mountain ash is covered with white flowers you can see from a block away.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Ash orange fruit

This is one tree that knows how to accessorize with its clusters of bright orange fall fruits!

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Ash pink fruit

For something different, try ‘Brilliant Pink’ – it’s the new orange.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

If you’re not familiar with mountain ash, you’re among friends. They aren’t seen that often. As a matter of fact, when I asked some acquaintances what they thought mountain ash was, they said: a tree, volcanic dust and a euphemistic term for something you wouldn’t eat if you knew what it really was.

Sometimes called rowan (particularly in Europe), mountain ash (Sorbus acuparia) has gorgeous orange fruits that are anything but ashen. The tree’s name gives you an idea of where the trees thrive – in cool climates where summer nights aren’t too warm. Mountain ash is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-6, but it also thrives in Portland, OR, and other areas that are technically Zone 8. Heat Zones play a part in this – Portland is in American Horticultural Society Plant Heat Zone 4, which means that temperatures go above 86 degrees F for about two to four weeks during summer on average. The Heat Zone designation also means that temperatures cool off every night, giving mountain ash its preferred growing conditions.

Like any good fashionista, mountain ashes are a little finicky. They like full sun and light, acidic soils. They don’t appreciate compacted soils, high pH or too much shade. Stressed trees are prone to diseases and insects, so mountain ash isn’t a particularly good choice to plant beside a busy street. Trees grow 30-40 feet tall.

In late spring, pretty white flowers bloom on the trees. Admittedly, they’re not pleasant to smell, but their bloom time is brief. Come August and September, you’ll be rewarded for putting up with the unique aroma by loads of small, quarter-inch fruits borne in heavy clusters that can be seen from a block away. The fruits nestle among the yellow autumn leaves, and they’ll last a couple of months. Of course the fruit would probably last even longer if the birds didn’t love them so much.

If you’re looking for a mountain ash that offers something a little different, try a cultivar of a different color. One of the best things about these cultivars is that the names are self-explanatory: ‘Apricot Lady’ has apricot-colored fruit, ‘Kirsten Pink’ offers pale pink fruit and ‘Carpet of Gold’ has golden fruit and an upright habit. ‘Edulis’ (from the same root word as edible) has larger, orange, edible fruit. Technically, all mountain ashes have edible fruit, but they’re not very good (read: terribly acidic and bitter) when eaten fresh. Consequently, they’re used in preserves, tea, juice and fermented into an alcoholic beverage.

So while mountain ash is a bit difficult, they’re worth the work. Mountain ash will give you lots of fall color and possibly some tasty tidbits, too. Who cares if its color is out of sync with Dior’s fall line?