Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Sorbus coinage

An Armenian whitebeam, Sorbus hajastana, described as a rare and endangered palaeoendemic of the Caucasus, has featured on an Armenian coin. 


In March 2011 the Central Bank of Armenia issued this commemorative silver coin designed by Eduard Kurghinyan featuring the “Aroseni Hayastanyan” (Armenian sorb).


The specific name of the tree derives from the word Hayastan which is what Armenians call Armenia.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Whitebeam haiku

Whitebeam palest green
Insect haven quickening tree
Hard white core : Witchwood

Haiku by
Mike Jones

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Wild service vodka

There is a lovely recipe for wild service vodka (Aufgesetzten aus Elsbeeren) here:

The German word Aufgesetzten does not appear to have an exact English translation, but having spoken to several fluent German speakers it seems to mean something like a 'pick-me-up' or, as my Northumbrian friend David Copeland would have said, a 'livener'.  It seems that one could make Aufgesetzten with any spirit and any fruit, though wild service berries should be particularly good as they combine apricot flavours from the fruit pulp and almond flavours from the seeds.

The recipe is at the end of the web site referenced above and I have translated it as follows:

To make the Aufgesetzten pound 400 grams of wild service berries in a non-metallic vessel.  Let the pounded pulp stand and ferment in a warm place for a week then put the pulp in a linen cloth (jelly bag) and squeeze the juice out.

Mix the juice with an equal quantity of vodka (at least 40% alcohol by volume), then mix the remaining pulp with 1/4 litre of vodka and filter the liquid off from this after two weeks.

Mix the two juices together and stir in three tablespoons of honey.

Leave at room temperature for one year before drinking.

One problem here is that the recipe does not specify whether the berries should be in their unripe and hard condition, or soft and ripe - probably the latter -though, if you can afford the vodka, it might be worth trying both and also experimenting with the fruit of other Sorbi.

Birds and Sorbus berries

There is a book called Birds and Berries by Barbara and David Snow (1988) that has useful details on the different wild birds that that eat the fruit and seeds of rowans, whitebeams and wild service trees as well as those of other of other plants.  See here:

20110424 Scratch and miscellanous 005

The Snows made their observations between 1980 and 1985 in Buckinghamshire and the adjacent parts of Hertfordshire in central southern England.

Not surprisingly the commoner British fruit- and seed-eating birds are the main culprits and, while they undoubtedly reduce the overall burden of seed available for germination, they also help to spread them.

In the case of the wild service (Sorbus torminalis) bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) were particularly active seed eaters.  Redwings (Turdus iliacus) and song thrushes (Turdus philomelos) swallowed the whole fruit.  There is, however, no mention of mistle thrushes (Turdus viscivorus), that are reported as being very fond of the berries to the extent that a pair will 'guard' a tree and drive off any new arrivals.

The Snows suggest that a poor dispersal of the wild service could be a consequence of "unsuccessful competition with other plants" (meaning that birds are more attracted to various other fruits available when the services were ripe) combined with the high level of seed predation and that this might account for the species' relative scarcity.  However, they also say that the fruit normally has only one seed, making seed predation more of a problem than for species with more than one seed.  In my experience, though, the wild service often has three or even four seeds per fruit.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Whitebeam bangle

A firm called 'Jewel Thief' in Brighton, UK, that specialises in contemporary designer jewellery has produced an acrylic bangle with a hand printed whitebeam leaf motif.


Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Sorbus absurdus

Another Finnish rock group has turned up on my radar, this time called 'Sorbus Absurdus'.Sorbus absurdus

Their music is deliberately rough and raunchy and their name, no doubt, a reference to the now discontinued Finnish Sorbus drink made out of sweet wine and rowan berries.

A Google search will bring forth many of their recorded numbers but it is, as I say, rough and raunchy, so you have been warned.

Monday, 4 April 2011

A old mistake

Browsing through Edward Connold's 1901 book British vegetable galls, I came across this picture.

Connolds torminalis

Clearly the leaves of a wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis) galled by the mite Eriophyes torminalis.  However, the caption says "Leaves of Viburnum Opulus [guelder rose] GALLED BY Eriophyes Viburni" which decidedly is not correct.

Connold lived in St Leonards-on-Sea, only a few miles from my home, and was a great expert on plant galls.  In a way his error shows how easy it is to overlook wild service trees, which still grow in St Leonards, or to mistake them for something else.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Des alisiers rougis

I was wandering about the house in the small hours when I came upon a book I have had for many years; Perles de la Poésie Française, the 7th edition published in 1906.

Idly opening it somewhere around the middle, I read the first verse of a poem called Les Paysans by André Theuriet and discovered a reference to the wild service tree in the last line:

Le village s’éveille à la corne du pâtre,

Les bêtes et les gens sortent de leur logis;

On les voit cheminer sous le brouillard bleuâtre,

Dans le frisson mouillé des alisiers rougis.

I have done a transliteration, trying to keep the feel of the original:

The whole village wakes to the shepherd's horn,

And the beasts and the people come out of their home places;

Under the blue tinted mist they move, weary and worn

Among the wet shiver of the autumn red sarveses.

I have used the dialect word 'sarveses' for 'alisiers' as 'services' is ambiguous without a wider context.

The poet, André Theuriet, seemed particularly keen on the alisier as illustrated in some of his novels (see my blog entry here for 14 January 2010).

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Irish whitebeam on Belleek porcelain

In 1984 the famous Belleek Pottery, an internationally renowned porcelain manufacturing company near Belleek village on the banks of the river Erne in County Fermanagh, N. Ireland, produced a limited edition Christmas plate featuring the Irish whitebeam (Sorbus hibernica) illustrated by artist Wendy Walsh.

The Irish whitebeam is an interesting member of the Aria (whitebeam) section of the genus Sorbus. It is distributed all over the island of Ireland where it is endemic indicating it must have been there for a long while, although its putative parents, Sorbus aria and Sorbus porrigentiformis, do not occur anywhere on the island as native species. So, the tree, an apomictic which now appears to reproduce true from seed, was either transported as a seed to Ireland, perhaps inside a bird, or has survived more successfully than its two parents which may once have grown in Ireland.

There is, incidentally, a traditional Irish recipe for apple and whitebeam berry pie. The berries in question would most likely have been from Sorbus hibernica. A good dish maybe to serve on one of these Belleek plates. See here:

In Co. Fermanagh the Irish whitebeam occurs in mixed ash woods.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Assorted information

These are just bits and pieces of information I gather from time to time. If anyone can provide further details on any of them, I would be grateful.

Hauptman's whitebeam tree is 15.5 metres tall and has a trunk circumference of 285 cm. It is among the tallest trees of its kind in Slovenia.

Bows from rowan and whitebeam wood. Interesting web site here:

Sunday, 9 January 2011

RIP Sorbus

Sorbus, a Finnish sweet fortified wine flavoured with juice from rowan berries (Sorbus aucuparia), was produced by Altia in Finland between 1935 and 1 January 2011 when it was withdrawn.