• Back to those Doward whitebeams

    Had another trip back to The Doward to meet up with Dave Green to see if I could put names to some more of the rare Sorbus recently photographed. Although he now lives in Wiltshire, Dave used to live near The Doward for about twenty years and knows these woods like the back of his hand. So meeting up and revisiting many of the trees I'd already photographed plus several more that Dave had noted down the years was something of an education.

    In fact one of the species up here that Dave originally identified as having very specific characteristics back in 2011/12 has actually been named after him (not by him - that's very bad form in taxonomic spheres) & so at present we know of 59 specimens of Sorbus greenii.

    Dave confirmed my previous identification of Sorbus eminentiformis and also showed me Sorbus evansii (named after the botanist Trevor Evans who discovered it in 1983) and Sorbus herefordensis and Sorbus saxicola. These four, along with Sorbus greenii, have the majority of their world populations on The Doward; in fact greenii and herefordensis are found nowhere else in the world. The differences between many of these species (or micro-species, as some people like to refer to them) are often very subtle, as they all tend to grow in very similar locations and leaf shape and size, even on a single tree, can be quite variable. Fruit shape and size can be a useful identification marker, often the only acid tests in some cases are through genetic fingerprints and flow cytometry.

    From 2012/13 another new species was identified on The Doward - Sorbus parviloba had previously only been known on Coldwell Rocks on the Gloucestershire side of the Wye Valley, but now Dave was convinced he had found in on The Doward. After tests at Kew it would seem that some of Dave's discoveries really are parviloba, but others may be a hitherto unknown species. Maybe there's a greentwoii out there!

    Another fascinating and classically situated tree was Sorbus x tomentella (confusingly, once called Sorbus x vagenis, but latterly renamed Sorbus x decipiens) - a hybrid between Sorbus aria (common whitebeam) and Sorbus torminalis (wild service tree) - and there it was, flourishing only a few feet away from both of its two parent trees.

    I'll be heading back to The Doward in a month or so to see the trees in fruit as part of the prep. work for our proposed "Remarkable Trees of Herefordshire", but in the meantime just to say many thanks to Dave G. for his time, help and good company.

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