Sorbus domestica (service tree, or sometimes true service tree to distinguish it from the wild service tree; syn. Cormus domestica (L.) Spach) is a species of Sorbus native to western, central and southern Europe, northwest Africa (Atlas Mountains), and southwest Asia (east to the Caucasus).
It is a deciduous tree growing to 15–20 m (rarely to 30 m) tall with a trunk up to 1 m diameter, though can also be a shrub 2–3 m tall on exposed sites. The bark is brown, smooth on young trees, becoming fissured and flaky on old trees. The winter buds are green, with a sticky resinous coating. The leaves are 15–25 cm long, pinnate with 13-21 leaflets 3–6 cm long and 1 cm broad, with a bluntly acute apex, and a serrated margin on the outer half or two thirds of the leaflet. The flowers are 13–18 mm diameter, with five white petals and 20 creamy-white stamens; they are produced in corymbs 10–14 cm diameter in late spring, and are hermaphrodite and insect pollinated. The fruit is a pome 2–3 cm long, greenish-brown, often tinged red on the side exposed to sunlight; it can be either apple-shaped (f. pomifera (Hayne) Rehder) or pear-shaped (f. pyrifera (Hayne) Rehder).
It is generally rare, being listed as an endangered species in Switzerland and Austria, and uncommon in Spain. In the UK, one very old tree that existed in the Wyre Forest before being destroyed in 1862 used to be considered native, but it is now generally considered to be more likely of cultivated origin, probably from a mediaeval monastery orchard planting. More recently, a small population of genuinely wild specimens was found growing as stunted shrubs on cliffs in south Wales (Glamorgan) and nearby southwest England (Gloucestershire). It is a very rare species in Britain, occurring at only a handful of sites. Its largest English population is within the Horseshoe Bend Site of Special Scientific Interest at Shirehampton, near Bristol. It is not otherwise widely cultivated in the UK.
It is a long-lived tree, with ages of 300–400 years estimated for some in Britain.
The largest and perhaps oldest known specimen in Europe is near the town of Strážnice in the province of Moravia, Czech Republic. Its trunk measures 458 centimetres (15.03 ft) in circumference, with a crown 11 metres (36 ft) high and 18 metres (59 ft) across. It is estimated to be around 400 years old.
Cultivation and uses
The fruit is a component of a cider-like drink which is still made in parts of Europe. Picked straight off the tree, it is highly astringent and gritty; however, when left to blet (over-ripen) it sweetens and becomes pleasant to eat.
The sorb tree is cited in the Babylonian Talmud Tractate Ketubot page 79a. The case involves purchasing an Abba Zardasa, which is translated by Rashi, an early Medieval scholar as a forest of trees call Zardasa that is used for lumber because the fruit is not commercially important. The Aramaic word zardasa may be the origin of the English sorb.
Etymology and other names
The English name comes from Middle English serves, plural of serve, from Old English syrfe, borrowed from the Latin name sorbus; it is unrelated to the verb serve. Other English names include sorb, sorb tree, and whitty pear—"whitty" because the leaves are similar to rowan (i.e. pinnate), and "pear" due to the nature of the fruit.
- Wedig Kausch-Blecken von Schmeling: Der Speierling. Verlag Kausch, Bovenden 2000, 184 S.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sorbus domestica.|
- Rotach, P. (1995). Service tree Sorbus domestica Technical guidelines for genetic conservation and use. EUFORGEN. Available online (pdf file)
- Rushforth, K. (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-220013-9.
- Mitchell, A. F. (1974). A Field Guide to the Trees of Britain and Northern Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-212035-6
- Hampton, M., & Kay, Q. O. N. (1995). Sorbus domestica L., new to Wales and the British Isles. Watsonia 20 (4): 379-384. Available online (pdf file)
- Hampton, M. (1996). Sorbus domestica L. - comparative morphology and habitats. BSBI News 73.
- Bean, W. J. (1980). Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles 8th ed., vol. 4. John Murray ISBN 0-7195-2428-8.
- Oxford English Dictionary
- Amelanchier, also called serviceberry