Whitebeam Trees (Sorbus aria)

Whitebeam Trees (Sorbus aria)

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Whitebeam trees are a broad leaf deciduous tree native to southern England, though widely planted in the north of the UK.

Scientific name: Sorbus aria Family: Rosaceae

UK provenance: native

Whitebeam tree berries are known as chess apples in north-west England and are edible when nearly rotten.

Compact and domed, mature whitebeam trees can grow to a height of 15m. The bark and twigs are smooth and grey, and the shoots are brick red in sunlight, but greyish green in shade.

Leaves: leaf buds are green and pointed and leaf stalks are short. Leaves are thick, oval and irregularly toothed, with the underneath covered in white, felt-like hair. When the leaves first unfold they look like magnolia flowers. They fade to a rich russet colour before falling in autumn.

Flowers: whitebeam is hermaphrodite, meaning each flower contains both male and female reproductive parts. The five-petalled flowers appear in clusters in May, and are pollinated by insects.

Fruits: flowers develop into scarlet berries, which ripen in late summer or autumn.

Look out for: the oval serrated edged leaves are softly hairy underneath and dark green and shiny on top.

When established, whitebeam is a very undemanding tree which will tolerates exposure, windy positions and dry urban situations well. It grows best on lime rich soils, and will thrive on chalk.  All this means it makes a fine ornamental, garden, park or street tree.  It however takes some care to establish as it will not tolerate poorly drained positions or waterlogged planting sites.