Swedish Whitebeam-Don’t Let the Tag Fool You!

What do I know about the Swedish Whitebeam tree? It belongs to the genus Sorbus which is in the rose family. This large family of over 3000 species includes apples, cherries, plums, pears, and mountain ashes, as well as the flowers known as roses. Mountain ash trees are members of the same genus (Sorbus) as white beams and therein may lie some of my confusion in finding this speciman. I kept returning to the area on the tree map where this species was said to be located, but the unmarked trees in the area seemed to be true ashes and elms. The one unusual tree had leaves that were completely wrong. I thought I knew the smaller deciduous tree was an Oakleaf mountain ash as I’d read the tag the year before.

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The darker green Sorbus intermedia in forefront

As the name implies, the Swedish whitebeam is not native to North America. As it doesn’t appear on the USDA maps, it must not be considered significant in the United States, although Toronto mentions it on its parks pages. In Great Britain it is suggested as a street tree. One source suggests it can withstand harsh conditions, is hardy to zone 3, and grows on Shetland Island. It may also be a tree useful for birds and bees.

The wood of the whitebeam has been used for handles, wheels and cogs. According to a few sources, the berries have been used to make bread and jam or used similarly to raisins. They may also be distilled into spirits.

As mentioned above, some of the confusion in finding this tree may be related to some of its attributes. Whitebeam are related to mountain ash trees and rowans. Tree Names lists fifty species of whitebeam, but also mentions whitebeams and rowans naturally hybridize. Some authors hypothesize that Swedish whitebeam are a hybridization of mountain ash and two other species or are derived from the Finnish whitebeam. With all the mountain ash genes involved, it isn’t surprising the sign on the Swedish Whitebeam

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Swedish whitebeam with correct latin name on label.

displays Oakleaf Mountain Ash as a common name along with the latin name of Sorbus intermedia, or that of the Swedish Whitebeam. Seems like it just continues the confounding nature of the Sorbus genus!

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The leaves of the Swedish whitebeam looking very similar to that of the Oakleaf mountain ash.

And why the two trees are so easy to confuse:

 

The tree on the Fort Collins City Park Self-Guided Tree Tour was planted in 1994 with a 2″ diameter. Although they are supposed to have white flowers in Spring turning to red berries in fall, no berries were visible in late September. This tree may live to 134 years.

To locate tree D192 Swedish Whitebeam (Sorbus intermedia), go to the southwest corner of the intersection of Sheldon and City Park Drives. This section is lined on the north and east by elms and ash trees with conifers making up the other boundaries. In the center are two conifers, the Engelmann Spruce and a Baker’s Blue Spruce.  Of the three deciduous trees, the Swedish whitebeam is the most southerly and smallest. It is also the only one with a visible tag.

 

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