Sorbus torminalis
Common Name: wild service tree 
Type: Tree
Family: Rosaceae
Native Range: Europe, northern Africa, southwestern Asia
Zone: 6 to 7
Height: 50.00 to 70.00 feet
Spread: 35.00 to 50.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Shade Tree, Flowering Tree
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Good Fall
Attracts: Birds
Fruit: Showy, Edible

Culture

Easily grown in humusy, moderately fertile, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Established trees tolerate periods of drought. Best performs occurs in cool summer climates. Trees dislike the heat and humidity of the deep South and will not perform well south of USDA Zone 7. Strong suckering habit. Prune as needed from late fall to early spring.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Sorbus torminalis, commonly known as wild service tree or chequer tree, is a deciduous tree with upright sweeping branches and a rounded crown. It typically matures to 50-70’ tall. It is native to woodland areas in Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. It is particularly noted for its attractive form, shaggy bark, white spring flowers, edible berry-like fruits (which mature in fall), lobed maple-like leaves, and yellow-orange-red fall color.

Flowers (to 5/8” across) with 5 white petals and 15-20 white stamens bloom in loose inflorescences (corymbs to 5” across) in late spring to early summer. Flowers give way to small, yellowish-brown, berry-like pomes (to ½” long) which ripen in fall. Fruit is inedible until over ripe (almost rotting). Fruit was regularly consumed by humans (picked when ripe and bletted) in some parts of its native range until the early 1800s. Seeds contain small amounts of hydrogen cyanide, which is reportedly not dangerous to humans in small quantities. Broad-ovate bright green leaves (to 3-5” long) have 5-9 deep acute lobes and serrate edges. Leaves are glossy green above and light green below, often turning excellent shades of bronze-yellow to red in fall.

Genus name comes from the Latin name sorbum for the fruit of the service tree (Sorbus domestica).

Specific epithet is from the Latin word tormina meaning the gripes in reference to an ancient use of the fruits from this tree as an herbal treatment for colic.

Common name of wild service tree is in reference to trees found in a natural wild habitat instead of from orchards or gardens. Common name of chequers tree has an uncertain origin in English history. Berries were reportedly known as chequers in southern England where they were used in pre-hops times to brew beer which was sold in pubs known as chequers inns. On the other hand, the name may be a reference to the checkered pattern of the fruit or flaking bark. Or the name may be a variation on the word choker in reference to the unpalatable nature of unripe fruit.

Problems

Bacterial fireblight can be a severe problem, causing scorched leaves at the branch ends. Additional potential problems for this rose family member include scab, cankers, crown gall, powdery mildew and rust. Insect visitors include aphids, borers, sawfly and scale. Stressed trees are generally more susceptible to attack from canker and borers.

Garden Uses

Lawn specimen for cool northern climates.