Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Western mountain ash

with 6 comments

At various places in Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park we noticed plants with conspicuous clusters of orange fruits, like this one in Glacier National Park on August 30th. Teagan Tomlin of the National Park Service identified it for me as western mountain ash, Sorbus scopulina. Notice how the orange discolorations on some of the leaflets match the color of the fruit.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 8, 2017 at 4:56 AM

6 Responses

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  1. Well, live and learn, indeed. The berries reminded me of pyracantha, and I see that both this tree and that shrub are in the same family. What I didn’t know is that pyracantha is an invasive here, and given to chasing native plants out of the neighborhood.

    I’d never heard the phrase “montane woods,” but now I suspect I know where the state of Montana got its name. And while I’d never make a sorbet from the fruit of this Sorbus, it looks as though there might be a bit of an etymological connection there, too.


    October 8, 2017 at 8:27 AM

    • I’d been surprised when I learned that this plant is in the rose family. Even now, looking at a picture of its flowers (which or course were long gone by the end of August), I don’t get an immediate “rose family” reaction.

      Montana gets its name from Spanish montaña, the cognate of the Old French montaigne that has become English mountain. Those words ultimately trace back to the Latin adjective montānus ‘pertaining to mountains.’ Scientists returned to that Latin adjective for montane.

      While you were on the right track with Montana, there’s no connection between the Latin tree name sorbus and sorbet and sherbet, related words that are of Semitic origin. The AHED gives a detailed etymology:


      Steve Schwartzman

      October 8, 2017 at 9:56 AM

  2. I always like finding out the showy and/or memorable plant species in a park, too, Steve. And this mountain ash is a beauty, with the tight cluster of berries and the very handsome leaves. Lovely photo.

    Jet Eliot

    October 8, 2017 at 9:42 AM

    • Clusters of these orange fruits peered out at us from various places as we traveled through Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks. I had no idea what the fruits were, but I found them appealing enough to photograph them and hope to identify them later. In the weeks ahead I’ll have some more botanical finds from the trip, even if for most of my subjects I chose the grand scale (mountains, lakes, badlands) that I don’t have access to at home in Austin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 8, 2017 at 10:33 AM

  3. Until I read about this shrub just now, hadn’t realized this is where dogberry jelly comes from, that you see for sale in Canada sometimes. I guess around here the ashes are the americana, but looks very much like the western one. I’ve never bought any of the jelly, seemed like kind of a suspect name.
    A few years ago I walked by one of these shrubs on a college campus in the fall, when a gang of Cedar Waxwings swooped in and started gobbling the fruits like maniacs – – berries flying all over the sidewalk, they looked like drunken frat boys visiting a White Castle. Maybe the birds really were inebriated, I guess the berries can ferment after the first frost.

    Robert Parker

    October 8, 2017 at 10:03 AM

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