Sorbus decora (Showy Mountain-ash)

Plant Info
Also known as: Northern Mountain-ash
Family:Rosaceae (Rose)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; swamps, upland forest, bluffs, shores
Bloom season:June - July
Plant height:10 to 40 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: UPL NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: flat Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] Flat or rounded cluster to 6 inches across of short-stalked flowers at the tips of 1-year-old branches, blooming when leaves are mature. Flowers are ¼ to ½ inch across, white with 5 rounded petals. In the center are 2 to 4 short, yellowish styles surrounded by about 20 white, ascending to spreading stamens. The calyx around the base of the flower has 5 short, triangular lobes, is usually hairless though may have a few glands. Flower stalks are hairless or with sparse, long, soft hairs.

Leaves and bark: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound

[scan of leaves] Leaves are alternate, 6 to 10 inches long, compound with 11 to 17 leaflets. Leaflets are lance-oblong, 1½ to 2½ inches long, ½ to 1 inch wide (2.5 to 3.3 times as long as wide), often abruptly tapered to a pointed tip, asymmetrical and rounded to wedge-shaped at the base, and stalkless. Edges are sharply toothed, sometimes only on the tip half, and the tooth at the very tip is typically slender and elongated. Surfaces are initially downy hairy but quickly become smooth, though a few hairs may persist along the midvein and vein axils on the underside. The compound leaf stalk is hairless and often reddish. Leaves turn red in fall.

[photo of twig and buds] Buds are shiny, sticky, dark purple, and with short, yellowish to light brown hairs at the tip and/or around the edge of scales. New twigs are green to brown, hairless to hairy, becoming reddish brown and smooth with scattered, pale lenticels (pores) the second year.

[photo of trunk] Older bark is gray to gray-brown, smooth but developing plates and scaly patches that eventually peel off. Trunks are single or multiple from the base and can reach up to 12 inches diameter at breast height (dbh).

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a cluster of bright red, ¼ to ½-inch, round, berry-like pomes (fleshy with a chamber of seeds in the center, like an apple). Fruit matures in late summer and persists through winter.


Showy Mountain-ash reaches the western edge of its US range in Minnesota and typically grows as a small tree on bluffs, in upland and swamp forests, and is a common sight on the rocky north shore of Lake Superior. It is easily mistaken for the related, and less common, American Mountain-ash (Sorbus americana), which has leaflets that are 3.3 times or more as long as wide (divide length by width to determine), typically hairless all over, and has somewhat smaller flowers and fruits (both to 1/3 inch). European Mountain-ash (Sorbus aucuparia), a landscape tree than occasionally escapes cultivation, has smaller leaflets up to 1½ inch long, and is hairy on leaf stalks, sepals, leaflets, has more densely hairy buds, and the terminal tooth on leaflets is much the same as the lateral teeth, not slender and elongated. Note that Mountain-ash is unrelated to Ash trees (Fraxinus species) and not at risk from emerald ash borer.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Cook County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Cook and St. Louis counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Rose M - Glenwood City, WI
on: 2019-02-25 12:09:28

We planted one of these a few years ago and it seems to be very slow growing. Should this be expected?

Posted by: Paul - Rochester
on: 2019-03-27 06:54:08

Is the Showy Mountain Ash a cultivar? Do you know the name of the cultivar? Thank you!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2019-03-27 10:43:47

Paul, it isn't considered a cultivar unless you see a name in quotes following the Latin name, e.g. Sorbus decora 'Nana'.

Posted by: Mike - Wright County
on: 2020-07-20 14:33:42

Rose, yes this should be expected of this tree. Consider this a positive. Most slow growing trees are good trees. I would say mine grows about 1 foot per year. I don't need it to get gigantic. It's an ornamental. After about ten years, it should be filled in nicely. Mines in its 5th year and is starting to look pretty good. Love the berries and the fall color.

Posted by: Stephen Blythe - Grant, Washington County
on: 2021-04-13 18:56:40

I have many large mountain ash growing in my yard, mainly thriving amidst conifers and buckthorn? I presume they are showy mountain ash, as they have the vibrant red fruiting clusters in late summer. I noted the map that does not show this plant in Washington County, so I would like to report it.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-04-13 22:11:26

Stephen, while it is not impossible for showy mountain-ash to be in your yard, I suspect it may be European mountain-ash instead. If it was planted there, then it could be anything.

Posted by: Rick P - Hackensack
on: 2021-07-22 13:42:05

Questions: 1. Will showy mtn ash grow on very acidic soil beneath the canopy of huge red/white pines? It's not very sunny but they would get some filtered SW sun 2. Will the deer eat them up or do I stand a chance? Thank you!!!

Posted by: Laurie Johnson - Twin Cities Metro
on: 2022-05-24 14:49:01

Is Showy Mountain Ash tolerant of juglone? I want to plant one in my backyard but a neighbor has a black walnut near the property line. I have searched online for an answer without luck. Thanks!

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2022-05-24 15:20:36

Rick and Laurie, we don't have any expertise propagating showy mountain ash and recommend posing your questions to the nursery where you purchase it.

Posted by: Jean - Minneapolis
on: 2023-05-07 14:48:36

Looking to plant showy mountain ash. Are the berries and issue for dogs ?

Posted by: John Tillotson - South Shore of Lake Superior not far from MN Border
on: 2023-07-17 09:30:20

Does the Showy Mountain Ash have issues with the emerald ash borer ?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-07-17 11:50:50

John, emerald ash borer is not known to attack Sorbus (mountain ash), just Fraxinus.

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