Owing to its very local occurrence, the White
Beam, though widely distributed, is one of the
less known of our trees and shrubs. It comes into
both these categories according to the situation
of its growth, for whilst in exposed mountainous
localities a specimen of mature age may be no
more than four or five feet high, and of bush-like
growth, under the lee of a wood, and on calcareous
soil, it will be an erect and graceful tree of
pyramidal form, whose apex is forty feet from
In its early years growth is tolerably rapid,
but at the age of ten it slackens pace, and after
attaining its majority its progress is very slow.
The bark is smooth and little subject to cracks
and fissures. The branches, except a few of the
lowest, all have an upward tendency. Its wood
is fine-grained, very hard, white, but inclined
In the typical form the leaves are a broad oval
in shape, with the edges coarsely toothed or cut
into lobes, the upper side smooth, and the lower
side clothed with white cottony down, the almost
straight nerves strongly marked.
The white flowers, which appear in May or June,
are only half an inch across, and gathered into
loose clusters. They are succeeded by nearly round
scarlet fruits, half an inch in diameter, known
in Lancashire and Westmorland as Chess-apples.
These are very sharp and rough to the taste, but
when kept like Medlars, till they begin to decay,
are far from unpleasant.
This form is only found from the Midlands to the
South of England as far west as Devon, and in
There are several closely allied species differing
mainly in the leaves. Sorbus latifolia, also known
as Pyrus latifolia, has broader leaves, divided
into wedge-shaped lobes, the cottony down beneath
being grey and the nerves less prominent. This
species is rare in hilly woods. Sorbus intermedia,
also known as Pyrus scandica, has the leaves more
deeply divided into rounded or oblong lobes. It
is usually found as a cultivated tree.
Other names for the White Beam include Henapple,
Cumberland Hawthorn, Hoar Withy, Quick Beam, and
It should be noted that S. Aria must not be called
the White Beam-tree, for the word beam is the
Saxon equivalent for tree.