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Whitebeam leaves

The Whitebeam

Whitebeam Tree

Whitebeam (Sorbus aria, family - Rosacea) is a beautiful, but slow-growing, medium-sized Deciduous tree with red berries, reaching 60 feet in height. They are found in Southern England, Central and Southern Europe. Irish Whitebeam (S. hibernica) found in calcareous woods in Ireland (Galway). They ate found in calcareous woods in association with ash, beech, field maple, hawthorn and wych elm. This is a tree which is really only common on chalk and limestone rocky areas in the wild. However, the tree will tolerate urban sites that are only mildly acidic. The leaves mulch down well at leaf fall. A number of very similar species are found with limited distribution and are believed to be hybrids between Sorbus aria and Sorbus torminalis (Wild Service Tree).

The tree derives its name from the brilliant white undersides of its leaves. The young shoots are white-grey coloured and hairy, changing later to olive green and then to olive-brown. In sunlight, the bark can appear to have a red tinge. White flowers appear in May to June followed by deep red fruits speckled brown which ripen and fall in September. Birds are fond of them.

Britain has a small number of endemic whitebeams which occur nowhere else in the world.

The brown wood is quite hard and forms good timber. The wood is used for Tool handles, turnery, furniture and plywood. The edible fruit can be made into jam and wine. The tree can be grown from seed, which should be treated by moist chilling, starting in December for April planting. The yield is approximately 31,000 black seeds, similar to Apple pips, per kilogramme.

The Arran Whitebeams

Two heavily endangered species of tree which exist nowhere else in the world, make their home on the Isle of Arran, Sorbus arranensis, the Arran Whitebeam, and Sorbus Pseudofennica the Arran cut-leaved whitebeam. They are Scotland's rarest native trees and only a few hundred exist in two rocky glens at the north end of the island, holding on to a precarious existence clinging to the rocky outcrops.

The Arran Whitebeam was first recorded in 1897 and is thought to have been the result of a natural hybridisation between the Rock Whitebeam (Sorbus ancaparia) and a rowan. Both species were once abundant on the island but have suffered from farming clearances.

These small, windswept trees are constantly under threat from gales and heavy snow storms, not helped by the fact that their fragile root systems are easily dislodged.

Acknowledgements and further reading:

The Observer's Book of TreesFrederick Warne & Co. Ltd.
The Meaning of TreesFred HagenederChronicle

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Ken James 2008