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A tree up to 30 ft high, with slender, often semi-pendulous branches; young shoots at first covered with whitish felt, becoming glabrous by autumn; winter buds pointed, slender, glabrous. Leaves lanceolate or narrowly ovate, tapering to both ends, 2 to 31⁄2 in. long, 3⁄4 to 11⁄4 in. wide, long-pointed, dark green and glabrous above, covered beneath with a close, beautifully silvery white felt; nerves parallel in eight to ten pairs; stalk about 1⁄2 in. long. Corymbs 3 to 4 in. across, sometimes rather elongated, carrying numerous rather densely arranged flowers 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 in. in diameter and white; calyx and flower-stalk woolly. Fruits oval or obovate, 1⁄2 in. across, ripening in late autumn or early winter, becoming red at least on the exposed side, devoid of calyx-teeth and with a small pit at the apex.
Native of Central and S.W. China; introduced by Wilson for Messrs Veitch about 1901. It varies somewhat in the more or less pendent character of its branches, and in one form, named f. pendula by Rehder, the habit is beautifully elegant, the branches arching outwards and drooping at the ends, and the leaves vividly white beneath.
In Dr Fox’s manuscript notes there are interesting remarks about this species, here quoted in full:
The seasonal displays of S. folgneri can be among the finest exhibited by a wild Sorbus species introduced into this country, but under conditions of cultivation they are provokingly variable. The foliage, though quite distinct in character, may alter in tinge from year to year. The tree is therefore better suited to be a companion to other Sorbus, rather than to be the only representative of its kind in the gardens of southern England, where it is perfectly hardy.
Its unusually soft leaves droop in loose clusters, a habit which distinguishes it from those of the Whitebeam for which they might be mistaken, being simple in form, and sometimes beautifully white beneath. On windy days a tree of S. folgneri can usually be detected by the characteristic shimmering of its half-silvery leaves. In the rate but unforgettable seasons when they turn golden pink on top in autumn, the foliage becomes brilliantly incandescent, and with its two tones of colour, is unmistakable.
specimens: Leonardslee, Sussex, 60 × 61⁄2 ft at 1 ft (1984); Sheffield Park, Sussex 60 × 31⁄4 ft (1986); Caerhays, Cornwall, 66 × 31⁄4 ft and 60 × 4 ft (1984).
S. zahlbruckneri – This little-known species was seen during the recent Arnold Arboretum Expedition to Hupeh. After his return, Dr Stephen Spongberg procured specimens of trees grown under its name in British gardens, of which he identified only the Borde Hill tree as being the true species.