Wild Service Trees
Sorbus torminalis, the Chequer or Wild Service Tree, is an upright, native plant with edible fruit.
Sorbus torminalis trees can reach a height of 10 - 15 metres.
Standard trees are the largest size that we deliver; you can also buy younger Sorbus torminalis saplings here.
General description of Sorbus torminalis trees:
The beauty of Sorbus torminalis is in its form, with its upright, sweeping branches, coated in deeply textured bark. It is deciduous, with broad, glossy, deeply toothed leaves that look a bit like those of a maple and turn into a good range of bronze yellows and russet reds in autumn. Sorbus torminalis produces lots of small clusters of white flowers in May which point upwards out of the foliage, making them more visible for you and for the insects that they want to attract.
As the tree ages, the rough young bark begins to crackle into vaguely rectangular scales that gradually flake off, creating a sort of chequered effect that might be the reason for one of its common names, the chequer tree.
History & uses of Wild Service Tree:
People who are in the know about traditional British fruit call the brown berries that ripen in late autumn chequers and, prior to the use of hops, they were much in demand for brewing beer and many pubs still use the word chequers in their name. Once common and widely harvested by local people for their fruit, Wild service trees are now quite rare in Britain and are mostly found in old, undisturbed forests.
It has been claimed that the official country home of the incumbent Prime Minister, Chequers Court, is named after this tree, though this is probably a coincidence. Its other common name, the wild service tree, may have something to do with spring time church services and in some areas the word service has been replaced with sarvis.
Sorbus torminalis has a strong suckering habit, which might explain why it is still to be found in Britain. The seeds are very bad indeed at growing in the wild here - they won't germinate at all if the winter isn't cold enough and are likely to die if the summer isn't just the right blend of rain and sun. Even if those conditions are met, most seeds get eaten by fungi as soon as they begin to sprout! Research in Epping forest has shown that the wild service trees there have grown from the suckers of older versions of themselves, a process that could have enabled the same tree to be reborn from a sucker many times over the centuries.
The berries are entirely edible and are in fact one of our most interesting native fruit, similar to a date but with more of a fruity flavour. The trick is to eat them at the right time - when they are over-ripe and after they have been frozen and thawed a couple of times by frosts (or your freezer). Fruit that have been bletted, which means to be kept until they are almost beginning to rot, have the very best flavour.