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Whitebeams and their relatives

The genus Sorbus is a large and very diverse one with over 100 species spread across the northern temperate regions. It includes whitebeams and mountain ashes or service trees.

Bristol whitebeam champion treeMost are small to medium size trees often with good autumn colour and attractive fruit.

Whitebeams have simple (undivided) leaves and include our native Sorbus aria.

Mountain ashes have pinnate leaves (divided into smaller leaflets) and include rowan (S. aucuparia).

Here are a selection to be found at Westonbirt, The National Arboretum. Try using the Westonbirt Interactive Map to find the locations of specific specimens.

Sorbus sargentiana at Westonbirt credit Mike WestgateSorbus sargentiana

Introduced by Ernest Wilson from Western China in 1908, this magnificent species has large pinnate leaves composed of 7-11 pairs of slender leaflets which turn a rich red in autumn. The berries are fairly small but a striking scarlet in colour. The large glossy red winter buds are also a distinctive feature.

Sorbus megalocarpa at Westonbirt credit Gina MillsSorbus megalocarpa

As the name suggests, the large fruits of this Chinese species (introduced 1903) are its most remarkable feature. Its deep, glossy green and coarsely toothed leaves turn crimson in autumn. There’s a great young tree to the south of Specimen Avenue. 

Sorbus Vilmorinii at Westonbirt credit Mike WestgateSorbus vilmorinii

This highly ornamental small tree has delicate fern-like leaves that, in a good year, turn spectacular shades of red. Its small berries turn from pink to white. 

Sorbus thibetica 'John Mitchell'

Named after a past curator of Westonbirt this medium-sized tree's most attractive features are its large leaves with brilliant white felted underside. The russet-coloured fruits are apple shaped.

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) heavy with berries.Mountain ash, Sorbus aucuparia

Our native rowan (see native trees) is very tolerant of cold and exposed conditions and occurs at higher altitudes than any other tree in the UK - hence its other common name of mountain ash.

Its leaves are pinnate and the bright red berries are a favourite food for winter thrushes and other birds.

Sorbus hupehensis at Westonbirt credit Mike WestgateSorbus hupehensis

Rather similar to S. vilmorinii, this tree was first collected by Ernest Wilson in Western China in 1910. Its leaves have a blue hue and the berries are usually white with a pink tinge.

Last updated: 8th August 2016


Westonbirt Arboretum

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England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.