WILD SERVICE TREE
Wild Service trees are very rare in Exeter - so if you spot one - well done! They are scarce now due to human expansion and clearance of forests and woodland. They used to be widespread across England many years ago and often found in various ancient woodlands. I have only come across two in Exeter on my travels and both were not fully mature trees. Given that they are native and are very attractive medium sized trees - I don't know why the local council don't plant more.
Wild service trees can grow up to 25m in height although this doesn't happen very often. You are more likely to find Wild service tree growing within hedgerows or within Oak and Ash woodlands. Although it does well in most soil conditions it does the best in clay and lime-based soils. It is a light demanding species and can struggle against other nearby larger hardwood species. Interestingly it's main method of reproduction in the UK is via suckers as the UK summers aren't usually warm enough for the seeds to fully ripen.
The bark is fairly smooth and greyish which is typical of the Sorbus genus., however it is flaky and peels away in squarish plates. The leaves are typically 6 - 14cm wide with a petiole which is around 2.5 - 5cm in length. The leaves are dark brown on both sides with five to nine acute lobes. The underside of the young leaves are slightly hairy but as they grow older they become more smooth and shiny. During the autumn the leaves turn a rich coppery red - a real sight to see.
The flowers are creamy white and produced in the large amounts
The fruit of the tree are small brown berries with golden dots scattered across the surface
The wild service tree is hermaphrodite in nature, meaning both the male and female reproductive parts are contained within each flower. The flowers are insect pollinated and appear in late spring to early summer. When in flower the tree is covered in sprays of creamy white flowers which attract are a wide variety of pollinators. The fruits of the tree are small brown berries with very fine small white dots. The fruit (berries) are widely eaten by birds and small mammals. The fruit is edible to humans and take like dates, however, they usually need to bletted beforehand.
The Wild Service tree is also know as the 'Chequers' tree - but nobody is really sure of how it actually got this nick name. Some believe it is because of the way the bark peels off in small chequered pieces. There is also the idea of the small chequered spots on the fruit. Many years ago the fruit was used to flavour beer - which might explain why so many British pubs are called the Chequers. Nobody really knows! Many years ago they used to be strung up in clusters to dry and ripen then picked off and enjoyed like sweets. The wood of Wild service tree is one of the most valuable hardwoods in Europe. The wood is fine-grained, very dense and has good bending strength. It was used in the past to make screws for wine presses, billiard cue sticks, musical instruments and turnery. Today, it is usually only used for decorative veneers
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