Wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis)
The wild service tree is native to England and Wales and is an indicator of ancient woodland as this is where it’s usually found growing in heavier clay soils. It is medium sized growing to 25 meters tall with a truck up to 1.3 meters in diameter. The wild service tree can be recognised by it’s white blossom in spring and crimson leaves in autumn. They also produce a small apple like fruit and have palmate leaves a little like a maple.
The fruit was popular at the beginning of the 20th century and can be eaten once softened. They used to be stung up in clusters to dry and ripen then picked off and enjoyed like sweets. The fruit is also known by the name ‘Chequers’ because of its speckled appearance. ‘Chequers’ is a popular name for pubs in this country and many have service trees in their gardens. Before the introduction of hops, the fruits were also used to flavour beer. The drink was said to keep away the plague.
The following is an abstract taken from ‘The distribution of the Wild Service Tree, Sorbus torminalis (L.) Crantz, in the British Isles’ by P. ROPER and discusses Wild Service trees around the area of Warwickshire where the Tree and Woodland Company is based.
49. WYCHWOOD, OXFORDSHIRE Before deafforestation, which followed enclosure in 1857, Wild Service berries from the Forest of Wychwood used to be sold in Burford market and probably elsewhere locally. The tree continues to be found at low concentrations in some of the few remaining woodlands, nearly all of which are on soils deriving from the rather complex Oolite and Upper and Middle Lias, that typify the Cotswold belt. The tree seems not to be found on the adjacent Lower Lias and is scarce on this formation everywhere in the south and west and virtually absent from it in the north and east. On a site near Kineton in Warwickshire on the Lower Lias some 32 km north of, Wychwood, the tree appears to be on the overlying Boulder Clay. Scattered records occur westwards towards Cheltenham and the Vale of Evesham and there were once, no doubt, trees in the woodlands throughout the whole of this area.