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A deciduous tree, of large size in the wild, but rarely seen more than 35 ft in cultivation. The habit is rather gaunt; branches few, thick, covered when young with a white wool, which afterwards falls away, leaving the shoots a smooth purplish brown; winter-buds stout, usually obtuse, almost glabrous. Leaves varying in shape even on the same spur, oblong-ovate or oblong-elliptic to broadly so, or broad-elliptic, obtuse to acute or shortly acuminate at the apex, rounded to cuneate at the base, sometimes decurrent at the base on to the petiole, 5 to 7 (sometimes to 9 in. long) by 21⁄2 to 5 in. wide, the margins irregularly and shortly toothed, sometimes doubly so or slightly lobulate, upper surface at first coated with a white cobweb-like down, but soon becoming glabrous, lower surface covered with a persistent close felt, which is at first white or yellowish white, becoming grey later; nerves more or less parallel, in usually no more than twelve pairs; petiole 1⁄2 to 1 in. long. Flowers white, 5⁄8 in. to almost 1 in. across, borne in substantial corymbs 2 to 3 in. across; stalks and receptacle very woolly. Petals woolly within. Styles four to five, sometimes three, free or almost so. Fruits globose to obovoid or oblate, about 5⁄8 in. wide (sometimes larger), russet or dull yellow flushed with red, specked with round lenticels, ripening in early winter; sepals dry, erect or spreading, inserted round a fairly wide cavity filled by the protuberant top of the ovary. Bot. Mag., t. 8259.
Native of the Himalaya from Garhwal eastward, and of north Burma; introduced in 1820, it is the most striking in its foliage of all the whitebeam group, but no large specimens have been recorded – at least none that belong unequivocally to this species. Although hardy, it will sometimes grow well for some years and without apparent reason, even in the middle of the summer, will droop and die.
S. cuspidata is variable in its foliage. An interesting form in the Hillier Arboretum makes a large shrub and has rather narrow, acuminate leaves of thinnish texture, bright green above, and unusually large fruits. It was raised from seeds received from the Indian seedsman Ghose of Darjeeling.
S. ‘Wilfrid Fox’. – A tree to about 40 ft high, narrowly fastigiate when young, widening with age. Leaves on mature trees mostly elliptic, obtuse, up to about 5 in. long and 23⁄4 in. wide, larger and broader on young trees, dark green and glossy above at maturity, undersurface with a persistent intensely white felt; petiole slender, to about 11⁄2 in. long. Fruits roundish, lenticellate, about 1⁄2 in. wide, light russet-yellow flushed with red, ripe in early October.
This whitebeam, named by Harold Hillier in honour of Dr Wilfrid Fox, founder of the Winkworth Arboretum, was previously cultivated as “S. nepalensis”. This is a horticultural synonym of S. cuspidata, but ‘Wilfrid Fox’ differs from that species in its thinner longer-stalked leaves and its early-ripening fruits. It is most probably, as Mr Hillier believes, a hybrid of garden origin between S. cuspidata and S. aria. A tree in the Copenhagen Botanic Garden was judged by Hedlund, the monographer of Sorbus, to be a hybrid of this parentage.
The parentage S. cuspidata × S. aria was suggested by A. B. Jackson for a tree at Borde Hill in Sussex which came from Veitch in 1907 as Pyrus vestita, i.e., S. cuspidata. The leaves are thinner than in that species, predominantly roundish, up to 43⁄4 in. long, tomentose beneath, distinctly and sharply lobulate in the upper part. Flowers almost 1 in. wide, in trusses 3 in. wide. Styles two or three, free. Fruits similar to those of S. cuspidata. Another possibility is that the second parent is not S. aria but S. lanata (see below), which would explain the sharp lobules, though the petioles are longer than in either species. Twenty-five years after planting this tree was 47 × 31⁄4 ft and is now 58 × 8 ft (1975).
S. hedlundii Schneid. S. thomsonii Hort., not (Hook. f.) Rehd. – An ally of S. cuspidata, differing most obviously in having the lateral ribs coated with brown or orange hairs, contrasting with the white indumentum of the blade, but this character is not shown by young trees. Other differences are the rather finer toothing of the leaves and the more united styles. S. hedlundii was described by Schneider from a specimen collected by the younger Hooker on Tonglo, west of Darjeeling, where it grows with Magnolia campbellii; it is also known from eastern Nepal and western Bhutan.
The largest examples of S. hedlundii in cultivation grow at Mount Usher in Co. Wicklow, Eire, and were raised in the 1920s from a tree at Kilmacurragh in the same county, now dead, which is believed to have come from the Glasnevin Botanic Garden at the end of the last century. The Kilmacurragh tree was inexplicably identified by Sir Frederick Moore as Pyrus thomsonii, a sorbus or the Micromeles group to which S. hedlundii bears not the remotest resemblance, and it was under the erroneous name of S. thomsonii that this sorbus was put into commerce by the Slieve Donard Nursery Company, who received propagation material from Mount Usher.
Seed of S. hedlundii was collected by the University of North Wales expedition to E. Nepal in 1971 (B.L. & M. 20), from trees 60-70 ft high, growing on a northwest facing hillside above Pokhari.
S. lanata (D. Don) Schauer Pyrus lanata D. Don – This species is of wide range, from eastern Afghanistan and bordering Pakistan through the Himalaya as far as western Nepal. Surprisingly there is no record of its having been grown in this country until quite recently, though it was introduced to Germany in 1868 by seeds received from Berthold Ribbentrop, who was at one time Chief Conservator of Forests in India. It differs from S. cuspidata in the sharply lobulate leaves less white beneath and sometimes almost glabrous by autumn. The fruits are apple-shaped or pear-shaped, and may be over 1 in. wide.
It is pointed out by David Long, in a paper published in the course of 1987 in Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh that the correct name for S. cuspidata (Spach) Hedlund is S. vestita (G. Don) Lodd. (Pyrus vestita G. Don). The publication of the herbarium name Pyrus vestita has been wrongly attributed to J. D. Hooker (1878). It was in fact first validated by George Don in 1832, two years before the publication of Spach’s name Crataegus cuspidata. In the 19th century most botanists included Sorbus in Pyrus, but the nurseryman Loddiges listed the species as Sorbus vestita in his 1836 catalogue. (cf. Loudon, Arb. et Frut. Brit., Vol. II, p. 912 (1838).
Old specimens of this species are very rare in gardens, the only two recorded being: Burford House, Surrey, 75 × 6 ft (1984) and Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, Circular Ride, 56 × 43⁄4 ft (1980).
S. ‘Wilfrid Fox’. – Two trees agreeing with this probable hybrid between S. cuspidata and S. aria are: Tortworth, Glos., 46 × 31⁄4 ft (1980) and Innes House, Moray, 38 × 33⁄4 ft (1980).
The Borde Hill tree mentioned on page 419 measures 55 × 81⁄4 ft (1980).
S. hedlundii – This species has reached 48 × 21⁄2 ft in the Valley Gardens, Windsor Great Park (1978).