Quick facts

Common names: whitebeam, common whitebeam

Scientific name: Sorbus aria

Family: Rosaceae

Origin: native

Whitebeam is a deciduous broadleaf tree that is compact and domed. Mature trees can grow to a height of 15m. The bark and twigs are smooth and grey and the shoots are brick red in sunlight but greyish-green in shade.

Look out for: the oval, serrated-edged leaves that are softly hairy underneath and dark green and shiny on top.

Identified in winter by: the young twigs which start hairy and become smooth later. Only the edges of the buds are hairy.

What does whitebeam look like?

Whitebeam single leaf against a white background

Credit: Nature Photographers Ltd / WTML

Leaves

Leaf buds are green and pointed and leaf stalks are short. Leaves are thick, oval and irregularly toothed, with the underneath covered in white, felt-like hair. When the leaves first unfold they look like magnolia flowers. They fade to a rich russet colour before falling in autumn.

Whitebeam flowers close up

Credit: Nigel Bean / NaturePL.com

Flowers

Whitebeam is hermaphrodite, meaning each flower contains both male and female reproductive parts. The five-petalled flowers appear in clusters in May, and are pollinated by insects.

Whitebeam fruit with leaves and berries

Credit: Nick Greaves / Alamy Stock Photo

Fruits

Flowers develop into scarlet berries, which ripen in late summer or autumn.

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Where to find whitebeam

Whitebeam is native to southern England, though widely planted in the north of the UK. It is common in parks and gardens, but is quite rare in the wild.

Did you know?

The berries are known as chess apples in north-west England and are edible when nearly rotten.

Value to wildlife

The flowers are pollinated by insects and the berries are favoured by birds. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of a number of moths, including Parornix scoticella, Phyllonorycter corylifoliella and Phyllonorycter sorbi.

Uses of whitebeam

Whitebeam timber is fine-grained, hard and white. Traditional uses included wood turning and fine joinery, including chairs, beams, cogs and wheels in machinery.

Threats and conservation

Whitebeam may be susceptible to aphids and blister mites.