The Whitty Pear Alias the Old Sorb Tree Alias the True Service Tree, Sorbus Domestica L. In Worcestershire

By Harry Green

Sorbus domestica is part of Worcestershire's natural history folklore originating from a solitary old tree reported in Wyre Forest by Alderman Edmund Pitts in 1677. Much has been written about that tree, especially in the Transactions of the Worcestershire Naturalists' Club founded in 1847 and many people have speculated on its origin. Was it a true native or planted by man?. The original tree was destroyed long ago but its progeny, grown from cuttings or seed, were planted in Worcestershire and elsewhere. There are also planted trees of unknown origin. A recent botanical bombshell in the S. domestica saga was the discovery of wild old Sorbus domestica trees in Glamorgan and Gloucestershire - are they related to the Wyre Forest tree? What are the relationships between all the S domestica now growing in Britain? Is the species a true British native?

I have been fascinated by Sorbus domestica for many years. About two years ago I became aware that several people unknown to each other were visiting the trees, measuring them, photographing them, and growing seedlings. It seemed sensible to get everyone together so I convened a "Sorbus domestica Study Group which first met on 18th July 1998. We agreed to undertake various projects, summarised as follows:

  1. Prepare an inventory of all S. domestica in Worcestershire and elsewhere.
  2. Initiate biochemical/DNA studies to follow-on work done of the trees found in Glamorgan.
  3. To appeal for information on any other trees both locally and nationally,
  4. To search likely habitats in Worcestershire for unknown trees.
  5. To assemble a bibliography on S domestica
  6. To help prepare S. domestica text in Worcestershire Biodiversity Action Plan.
  7. To prepare a batch of Old Sorb Tree wine to encourage out activities!

Soon after we commenced work Frances Claxton arrived on the scene and soon became a very active participant in these studies. She has been able to take forward someof our objectives more rapidly than we had hoped, particularly DNA finger-printing. She describes her progress in the following paper.

Also, a data-base of all known trees has been prepared. Appeals for information through the media and privately have resulted in reports of cultivated trees unknown to us both in Worcestershire and elsewhere. Material is being assembled for a bibliography - a few key references are given at the end of Frances Claxton's article. So far no new wild trees have been found in Worcestershire although we still hope the Teme valley or adjacent streams where there are unstable limy soils may shelter an unknown tree! We did prepare two batches of Old Sorb wine, one from Wyre, one from Croome, and we have enjoyed some of both!

The Sorbus domestica Study Group: M Averill, J Bingham, J Bulmer, F Claxton, G H Green, J R Hodson, F & C Jennings, J Meiklejohn, P Thew, W Watson, B Westwood and R Winnall. R Maskew and W A Thompson of the Worcestershire Flora Project are kept informed. Bronwen Bruce was actively involved during her work preparing Worcestershire's Biodiversity Action Plan.

We should to thank Frances Claxton for her enthusiasm for all things Sorbus, her ability to get things done, and her willingness to work with a band of somewhat eccentric enthusiasts!

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