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Wild Service Tree (Torminalis glaberrima)

The Wild service tree has - confusingly - changed its botanical name. It used to be a Sorbus, like Whitebeam or Rowan, but apparently now it isn't. It has its very own genus, and instead of being Sorbus torminalis is now Torminalis glaberrima. And the Wild Service tree has nothing whatever to do with the True Service tree, or Service tree, Cormus domestica. Which used to be called Sorbus domestica and was supposed to be related to Torminalis glaberrima. Honestly, talk about confusing.

Just to muddy the waters further, "Service" is said to be a derivation of the Latin cerevisia, a type of beer, which the Romans used Service tree fruit to flavour. Not Wild Service tree fruit.  

Anyway, apparently "torminalis" means its fruits are good for colic, though I haven't tried them myself. The birds like its fruit, which seems to have been a neolithic staple, although it needs bletting like medlars before it's really edible. Entirely predictably, folk used to make a kind of cider from Wild Service berries too. Not sure where the "glaberrima" comes into it, by the way. 

I should also say it has another common name - the Chequer tree or Chequerberry tree. There's a Checkerberry (of course there is), Gaultheria procumbens, which has nothing to do with it. 

This kind of confusion is very typical of a largely forgotten tree. It's odd, because we don't have that many broadleaf woodland species. And the Wild Service tree is a lovely thing. In the past its wood was prized too. Torminalis glaberrima has pretty white flowers, and beautiful autumn colour like an acer. It's most common on heavy clay soils but seems pretty unfussy, and its flowers are hermaphrodite. True, it does sucker sometimes, but that's a small price to pay for a lovely tree. 

Our Chequerberry's bark has a decorative chequer look. Supposedly it might have lent its name to Chequers, the country house of our glorious leader, which had several Wild Service trees in its ground in Elizabethan times. Although they live up to 300 years, history doesn't relate whether there are any still growing there.

Torminalis glaberrima's natural range seems to have been patchy in the UK, focused in the southeast. I guess this is one reason why it's not often specified in planting schemes, but he most problematic issue it has is its low germination rate. This means it's expensive and tricky to grow Wild Service saplings from seed. We generally manage to find them to sell, but it's difficult and they're not cheap. They're odd looking plants when young, by the way, with a strange sinuous habit. 

As it's not often planted it's usually an indicator of ancient woodland, where Torminalis glaberrima hangs around larger broadleaf species. It seems to need reasonable light levels, so lack of coppicing and other woodland management could also be reasons for its decline. It's also susceptible to Fireblight and Silverleaf. Joy.  

Whatever, it's a super tree, and one you should consider planting.