Whitebeam Sorbus aria
Beacon of hope, boundary marker,
Effervescent glow, the Whitebeam.
Pure white flowers, soft hairy leaves,
Gentle presence, the Whitebeam.
Stands alone, cannot be pinned down,
Wild, untamed, the Whitebeam.
Limestone cliffs, babbling brooks,
Rolling landscape, the Whitebeam.
Hard timber, bow-wood,
Gentle warrior, the Whitebeam.
As a young man walking the downs I will never forget my first sight of the whitebeam in full flower. It stood like a shining beacon of hope and its memory is forever etched in my mind. It announces its presence in the spring with effervescent silvery white leaves giving the tree a look of a candelabrum. At this time I was unaware of its bewildering array of forms refusing to be pigeon-holed into one neat species.
The sorbus genus consists of many species including the rowan (S.aucuparia), the true service tree or whitty pear ( S.domestica) which is considered to be Britain’s rarest tree and the wild service (S.torminalis) which has more maple-like leaves and small pear-like fruits. In addition to these species there are up to 18 rare or endemic species of whitebeam specific to a range of places from Devon to the Wye valley and the Isle of Arran to Wales and Ireland. Please find a full list at the end of this article.
The whitebeam is an ideal amenity tree as not only does it look striking for much of the year with its silvery-white leaves and white flowers followed by red berries and autumnal golden leaves, it also grows on dry chalky soils resisting drought as well as pollution.
Traditionally the whitebeam is used for the making of cogs from its very tough wood as is the hornbeam tree ( beam meaning tree in Anglo-Saxon). Its over-ripe berries can make a syrup to flavour venison and its wood can also make bows.
A beautiful tree consisting of rare truly wild species in some of the last remaining unaltered areas of England such as on the Avon gorge and the Wye Valley. It truly is a beacon of hope urging us to continue to preserve the few true native tree species of our English Countryside.
Apomictic Whitebeams endemic to the British Isles:
Sorbus arranensis – Isle of Arran only.
Arran Service Tree – Isle of Arran only.
Sorbus pseudomeinichii - Isle of Arran only.
Lancaster Whitebeam - Lancaster only.
English Whitebeam - Great Britain and Ireland only.
Bristol Whitebeam - Avon Gorge only.
Devon Whitebeam – Devon, Somerset, Cornwall and Ireland only.
Ley’s Whitebeam – Brecon Beacons only.
Lesser Whitebeam – Brecon Beacons only.
Sorbus leptophylla – endemic to UK
Sorbus wilmottiana – endemic to UK
Bloody Whitebeam – Exmoor only.
Sorbus subcuneata – coastal North Devon and Western Somerset only.
Cheddar Whitebeam – Cheddar Gorge only.
“No Parking” Whitebeam – North Devon only.
Llangollen Whitebeam – Llangollen only.
Irish Whitebeam – Ireland only.
Leigh Woods Whitebeam- Leigh Woods only.
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Poetry of flowers
Join me to explore the flora of the British Isles on this blog. My intention is to attempt to capture the unique quality and beauty of each species of flower, tree or shrub. For every species featured I will be growing many more wildflowers to celebrate the joy of their existence, their intrinsic conservation value and bewildering array of uses. For nearly 30 years I have noted, studied and explored wildflowers in the field much to the patience of the walker beside me. To share this passion is a heartfelt plea to respect, preserve and care for all British Wildflowers no matter how common they seem.