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Service tree (Sorbus torminalis) with deeply lobed leaves and apple-shaped, small fruits

Service tree ( Sorbus torminalis ) with deeply lobed leaves
and apple-shaped, small fruits

Order : Rose-like (rosales)
Family : Rose family (Rosaceae)
Subfamily : Spiraeoideae
Tribe : Pyreae
Sub tribus : Pome fruit family (Pyrinae)
Genre : Whitberries
Scientific name
Strain of the service tree ( Sorbus torminalis )

The flour berries ( Sorbus ), and rowan berries , rowan or wild service called, are a genus of maloideae (Pyrinae) within the family of the rose family (Rosaceae). The approximately 100 species are distributed in the temperate areas of the northern hemisphere . All species bear showy fruits in autumn. Some species, such as the Japanese or Kashmir mountain ash, are planted in gardens and parks because of their striking autumn colors. The genus includes the rowan tree , whose fruit is processed into brandy and jam, as well as the service tree , which in the cider production plays a role. In 2017, Senikov & Kurto divided the European whitebeams into several different new types. The generic name Sorbus then only remains with the actual rowanberry ( Sorbus aucuparia L. ).


Illustration of the dwarf whitebeam ( Sorbus chamaemespilus ) in the Atlas of the Alpine Flora
Inflorescences and pinnate leaves of mountain ash ( Sorbus aucuparia )
Real whitebeam ( Sorbus aria ) with unevenly serrated leaf edges, the simple leaves are usually not lobed
Fern-leaved mountain ash ( Sorbus scalaris ) with fruits in October
Sliced ​​apple fruit from Sorbus scopulina

Appearance and leaves

Sorbus species usually grow as deciduous trees and shrubs . The trees are sometimes multi-stemmed and often have a wide spreading crown . Some species reach a height of between 25 and 30 meters. Among the large becoming species include, for example Sorbus pohuashanensis , up to 20 meters tall species that can be found in the mountainous regions of northern China. Most species remain significantly lower. The dwarf whitebeam native to Central Europe reaches a height of about 3 meters. Sorbus reducta , which is native to western China , is only 1.5 meters high and forms dense undergrowth due to its numerous offshoots.

The usually relatively large winter buds are egg-shaped, conical or spindle-shaped and sometimes sticky with a few roof-tile-like covering bud scales that are hairy or bald.

The alternate leaves arranged on the branches are divided into a petiole and a leaf blade. The leaf blades are simple or pinnate. The leaf margins are often serrated, rarely almost entire. The leaf surfaces are hairy or bald or downy. There is pinnate veins . The stipules usually fall off early.

Inflorescences and flowers

Depending on the species, the flowering period is from spring to summer. The terminal, mostly compound, rarely simple umbrella or panicle inflorescences usually contain many flowers.

The hermaphroditic flowers are radial symmetry and five-fold with a double flower envelope . The flower cup (hypanthium) is bell-shaped, rarely inverted-conical or jug-shaped. The five mostly green sepals are ovate or triangular and hairless to downy or woolly; sometimes glandular hairs are located along the edges. The five free yellowish-white to white-pink petals can be nailed and are hairy bald to fluffy. The mostly 15 to 25, rarely up to 44 stamens are in two or three circles and are of unequal length. The anthers are egg-shaped or almost spherical. The two to five subordinate to semi-subordinate carpels are partially or completely fused with the flower cup. Each carpel contains two or three, rarely four, upright, anatropic ovules , one of which is usually stunted. There are two to five free or partially overgrown styles that are hairy or bald or downy.

Fruits and seeds

The pomegranate fruits of the whitebeam are apple fruits and are reminiscent of small apples , which is not surprising due to the botanical classification in the pomaceous fruit family (Pyrinae) (linguistic confusion with the flour pear is based on this). Similar to the apple , the five sepals are located on top of the fruit, which are durable or fall off and leave a ring-shaped scar. Depending on the species, the apple fruits turn white, yellow, pink, brown or orange to red when ripe. The mostly relatively small apple fruits are egg-shaped or spherical to ellipsoidal or elongated. The skin of the fruit is bare or hairy and there may be small lenticels . The parchment-like core consists of usually two to five, rarely up to seven chambers, each containing one or two seeds.

In the seeds, a thin perisperm and endosperm surrounds the embryo with its two compressed cotyledons ( cotyledons ).



Seedlings and young trees of the Sorbus species are damaged by deer , roe deer , hares , rabbits , voles and mice . Mice and voles gnaw, among other things, the bark or roots of trees and can thereby cause young plants to die.

The larvae of the furrowed vine weevil eat the bark of the roots and in extreme cases can damage a plant to such an extent that it dies. The likelihood that a plant will be attacked by these larvae increases with the humus content of the soil. The expected pest infestation is low in normal soil.

Fruit-eating birds

The showy fruits of the whitebeam are eaten by a large number of bird species. The seeds of the fruits usually pass undamaged through the intestinal tract of the birds. The fruit-eating species include blackbirds , thrushes such as red robin , robin and fieldfare, and starlings and waxwings .

The speed with which the fruit hanging on a tree is looted by birds seems to depend on the surrounding vegetation. In the suburbs, McAllister's research shows that ripening Sorbus trees are deprived of their fruit within just a week or two. McAllister attributes this to a higher population of evergreen plants that provide cover for the birds. On the other hand, Sorbus trees that are isolated in a field or on a lawn keep their fruits for months. The type of Sorbus also has an influence on the speed at which birds eat the fruit. The species Sorbus decora , Sorbus cascadensis , Sorbus sitchensis and Sorbus matsumurana are particularly valued by birds . These early ripening species are eaten by birds before they are fully ripe.

distribution and habitat

The approximately 100 species of the genus Sorbus have a wide natural range in the northern hemisphere and are mainly found in Eurasia and northern North America. A few species are also found in North Africa and Madeira . There are 67 species in China, 43 of them only there.


Most species of this genus are typical of their ability to adapt to extreme locations. Trees and bushes of this genus can be found, for example, in exposed rock walls, where they take root in crevices that do not contain much soil. Occasionally you will see young mountain ash growing in gutters. The demands of the Sorbus species on the soil are low and they are able to thrive on nutrient-poor and acidic soils. Most species react to nutrient-rich and humus- rich soils with increased growth. The calciferous species include Sorbus cracilis and Sorbus poteriifolia , which develop chlorosis when they stand on calcareous soils.

Many Sorbus species are sensitive to drought and shed their leaves early in the year after long periods of drought. Species that are native to the Himalayas are particularly sensitive to drought . Dry locations also have an impact on the maximum height growth of a tree. Service trees, for example, in optimal locations in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, reach heights of growth of over 30 meters. In locations with less precipitation in the Balkans and France, these trees rarely grow taller than 25 meters. In the mountains, Sorbus species regularly occur up to the tree line . Sorbus species are also among the tree species that thrive in the forest tundra .

Pure stocks with Sorbus species are rare. Sorbus species tend to be light-hungry pioneer plants that thrive on the edges of forests and clearings , where there is less competition with other tree species. Since the seeds of Sorbus species are regularly dispersed by birds, a large number of Sorbus seedlings are found in the undergrowth of forests . If competing trees fall victim to a fire or storm, the resulting gaps are quickly closed by Sorbus species.

The apomictic whitebeams

There are a variety of hybrids between species within the genus Sorbus . Most of these hybridization processes only give rise to species that are distributed over a small area and that reproduce apomictically by forming seeds in an asexual way by means of agamospermia . Offspring from these seeds are genetically identical to the plant specimen from which the seed was derived.

For example, the complex of bastard whitebeams ( Sorbus latifolia agg.) Includes apomictic species that emerged from hybridization of the service tree ( Sorbus torminalis ) and species of the Sorbus aria group. Another bastard complex has arisen from the rowanberry ( Sorbus aucuparia ) and the rock whitebeam ( Sorbus rupicola ). These include some endemics from England such as the species Sorbus leyana or from Germany with Sorbus lonetalensis , which with only 11 to 16 specimens are among the rarest trees in the world.


The genus Sorbus was established by Carl von Linné . Synonyms for Sorbus L. are: Aria (Pers.) Host , Ariosorbus Koidz. , Chamaemespilus Medik. , Hahnia Medik. , Micromeles Decne. , Torminalis Medik. , Cormus Spach .

The genus Sorbus belongs to the subtribe of the pome fruit family (Pyrinae) in the subfamily Spiraeoideae within the family Rosaceae .

According to Hugh McAllister 2005, the genus Sorbus is divided into seven subgenus and these are divided into sections :

  • Subgenus Sorbus subg. Albocarmesinae McAll. : It was reorganized in 2005.
  • Subgenus Sorbus subg. Aria Pers. : The approximately 50 species are widespread in Eurasia and North Africa.
  • Subgenus Sorbus subg. Chamaemespilus : it contains only one species:
    • Dwarf whitebeam ( Sorbus chamaemespilus (L.) Crantz ): It occurs in southern and eastern Europe.
  • Subgenus Sorbus subg. Cormus (Spach) Duch.
    • Service tree (Sorbus domestica L.): It is widespread in southern and central Europe
  • Subgenus Sorbus subg. Micromeles : It contains 12 to 15 species in East and Southeast Asia .
  • Subgenus Sorbus subg. Sorbus : The 80 or so species are widespread in the northern hemisphere.
  • Subgenus Sorbus subg. Torminaria (DC.) K.Koch : It contains only one species:
    • Service tree ( Sorbus torminalis (L.) Crantz ): It is mainly found in the Mediterranean region.
  • Some species are not yet classified in a subgenus.

The approximately 100 species of the genus Sorbus include, for example:

Whitberries and people


Whitberries are by no means as economically important as other pome fruits. The mountain ash and the service tree are of particular economic importance.

The fruits of the mountain ash are used both in wild herb cooking and in herbal medicine. The fruits contain sorbic acid and between 0.02 and 0.30 percent parasorbic acid. After debittering, they are usually boiled into jam, compote or jelly. They are also used to make schnapps, syrup and tea. Folk medicine uses rowan berries for rheumatism , constipation and bleeding, as well as decoction of the fruit as a gargle for hoarseness. In the past, the fruits were also used to produce sorbitol. Sorbitol , also called sorbitol , is a sugar alcohol that is used as an additive in diabetic preparations.

Due to their tannin content, the fruits of the service tree are used as a clarifying addition to cider .


The wood of the service tree , partly also the similar wood of Sorbus domestica is highly prized ( Swiss pear ) and v. a. used as plywood and in the furniture industry. In the past, the dimensionally stable wood was also used to make rulers and slide rules.

Fire blight

As pome fruits, all whitebeams, especially service berries, service berries, rowan / mountain ash, and real whitebeams are at great risk from infestation with fire blight and are among the main host groups.


In 1993 was in Germany Speierling ( Sorbus domestica ) for Tree of the Year nominated 1997 Rowan ( Sorbus aucuparia ) and 2011 then the service tree ( Sorbus torminalis ).


  • Hugh McAllister: The genus Sorbus - Mountain ash and other rowans. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 2005, ISBN 1-84246-088-9 .
  • Lu Lingdi, Stephen A. Spongberg: Sorbus. In: Wu Zhengyi, Peter H. Raven, Deyuan Hong (Eds.): Flora of China . Volume 9: Pittosporaceae through Connaraceae . Science Press / Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Beijing / St. Louis 2003, ISBN 1-930723-14-8 , pp. 144 (English). , same text online as the printed work. (Section description)
  • Alexander Sennikov, Arto Kurtto: A phylogenetic checklist of Sorbus sl (Rosaceae) in Europe . In: Memoranda Soc. Fauna Flora Fennica 93 , Helsinki 2017, pages 1-78. https://journal.fi/msff/article/view/64741
  • Wang Guo-Xun, Zhang Ming-Li: A Molecular Phylogeny of Sorbus (Rosaceae) Based on ITS Sequence. In: Acta Horticulturae Sinica , 2011, Volume 38, Issue 12, pp. 2387-2394.

Web links

Commons : Sorbus  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: whitebeams  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g h i j k l m Lu Lingdi, Stephen A. Spongberg: Sorbus. In: Wu Zhengyi, Peter H. Raven, Deyuan Hong (Eds.): Flora of China . Volume 9: Pittosporaceae through Connaraceae . Science Press / Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Beijing / St. Louis 2003, ISBN 1-930723-14-8 , pp. 144 (English). , same text online as the printed work.
  2. Wolfgang Schiedermair: The "Meelbyrn, Paliurus" in Adam Lonitzer's "Kreuterbuch" (1679). For knowledge of X Sorbopyrus auricularis (Kroop.) Schneid. - Rose hip pear. In: Medical historical messages. Journal for the history of science and specialist prose research. Volume 34, 2015 (2016), pp. 87–96, here: pp. 89–91.
  3. ^ A b Hugh McAllister: The genus Sorbus - Mountain ash and other rowans. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 2005, ISBN 1-84246-088-9 , p. 35.
  4. ^ Hugh McAllister: The genus Sorbus - Mountain ash and other rowans. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 2005, ISBN 1-84246-088-9 . P. 36
  5. McAllister, p. 33
  6. McAllister, p. 32
  7. Schmeling, p. 38
  8. Norbert Meyer: Sorbus (L.) Crantz - whitebeam, mountain ash, service tree, service tree, dwarf whitebeam . In: Müller F., Ritz C., Welk E., Wesche K. (eds) Rothmaler - Exkursionsflora von Deutschland. Springer Spectrum, Berlin, Heidelberg . September 7, 2016. doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-8274-3132-5_12 .
  9. a b c d e f g h i Sorbus in the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), USDA , ARS , National Genetic Resources Program. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  10. Andreas Alberts, Peter Mullen: Psychoactive plants, mushrooms and animals. Franckh-Kosmos, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-440-08403-5 , p. 198.
  11. Peter Flütsch: Entertaining information on the flora of Davos. Buchdruckerei Davos AG, 1988 - no ISBN, p. 19.