Rowans, Service Trees & Whitebeams

Swedish Whitebeam Common Whitebeam Common Rowan Common Rowan

What are they?

These woody members of the rose family (Rosaceae) are all members of the genus Sorbus, which is a fairly large and diverse group of small trees. This group contains both native plants and species introduced from abroad as ornamentals and amenity plants. There is great variation in the appearance of Sorbus species, with some having compound leaves (and sometimes known as mountan ash) and some having simple leaves with pale undersides - the whitebeams. In addition, there are a number of species with intermediate appearance, as well as some that have almost maple-like leaves (service-trees). Despite all this leaf variation, there is a similarity in the appearance of the flowers and fruits that will help to identify a plant as belonging to this group.

Where are they found?

This diverse group contains species that are common, native plants of heathland and copses, as well as a number of introduced species that are most likely to be found as old garden relics or planted as street trees in urban areas.

Identification

Most species can be identified by details of the leaves, but fruits can be important for some species, as well as whether the buds are sticky or not.



Common Rowan      Sorbus aucuparia

Native. Common on heaths and commons on sandy soils but also widely planted elsewhere. Flowers May to June, small, but carried in many-branched, flattened heads. Fruits 7-12mm across, orange-red.

Common Rowan Common Rowan Common Rowan
Habit
Flowers
Flowers
Common Rowan Common Rowan
Fruit
Winter twig and bud


Common Whitebeam      Sorbus aria

Native elsewhere in the UK but only an introduction in East Anglia. Quite widely planted as a street tree and perhaps occasionally self-seeding. Flowers May to June, small, but carried in many-branched, flattened heads. Fruits 10-15mm across, red with pale freckles. Many planted trees are of the cultivar 'Lutescens' which has particularly pale undersides to the leaves.

Common Whitebeam Common Whitebeam
Flowers
Early leaves
Common Whitebeam Common Whitebeam Common Whitebeam
Fruit
Winter twig and bud
Bark


Swedish Whitebeam      Sorbus intermedia

Introduced from northern Europe. Quite widely planted as a street tree and perhaps occasionally self-seeding. Flowers May to June, small, but carried in many-branched, flattened heads. Fruits 11-15mm across, orange-red with only one or two pale freckles. Leaves whitish beneath, relatively broad and deeply lobed.

Swedish Whitebeam Swedish Whitebeam Swedish Whitebeam Swedish Whitebeam
Flowers
Flowers
Leaves
Leaf
Swedish Whitebeam Swedish Whitebeam Swedish Whitebeam
Fruit
Winter twig and bud
Bark


Swedish Service-tree      Sorbus hybrida

Introduced from northern Europe. Occasionally planted but recorded just once in East Anglia, in West Suffolk. Flowers May to June, small, but carried in many-branched, flattened heads. Fruits 10-15mm across, orange-red with scattered pale freckles. Leaves whitish beneath, deeply lobed and becoming pinnate at the base.

Swedish Service-tree Swedish Service-tree Swedish Service-tree
Leaves
Leaves
Leaf


Wild Service-tree      Sorbus torminalis

Native in southern Britain and in the south of the East Anglian region, but also planted and only likely to be native in older, species-rich woodlands. Flowers May to June, a little larger and carried in more open heads than other Sorbus species in the region. Leaves green, the blade deeply lobed with distinctive, sharp-pointed lobes that get progressively larger towards the base.

Wild Service-tree Wild Service-tree Wild Service-tree Wild Service-tree
Habit
Habit
Flowers
Leaf
Wild Service-tree Wild Service-tree
Winter twig and bud
Bark