Unusual & Old Fashioned Fruit Trees

Service Tree – Whitebeam – Sorbus Torminalis

The Wild Service Tree is a Whitebeam and has been recorded as growing in the UK for thousands of years. The family name of Sorbus is the same as the smaller, more ornamental, Mountain Ash which is famous for the display of brightly coloured berries that it puts on in the Winter. The Wild Service Tree is definitely a much larger tree growing up to 25 metres and therefore not suited to the average back garden, although the similar, French, Sorbus Domestica is a lot smaller. However, if you have a pony paddock, smallholding or any field where you want to plant the odd specimen tree, this may be of interest. The Service tree is a hardy native of Europe and is not very common these days, but it used to be famous in centuries past for it’s fruit’s.

After flowering in May and June the fleshy brown berries develop and ripen in August, but remain hard until they have been “Bletted” to soften them. Back in the 1600’s and 1700’s they were sold in street markets along with more familiar fruit, but their harvesting and usage goes back to the Romans who made an alcoholic drink by fermenting grain and Sorbus berries to produce a kind of beer before the introduction of hops. In later times an alcoholic drink, said to be good for colic, called "Chequers" was made from the berries. Myth says that this is the origin of the popular name of “Chequers” for pubs. The fruits can also be used to flavour other alcoholic drinks such as whisky in the same way that sloe gin is made with Sloes or Blackthorn berries.

The Wild Service Tree suckers freely, and not being hybridised will also grow true to type from its own seeds, although they may well take 18 months after sowing before they sprout.

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