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Hawke's Bay, New Zealand

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Botany Q & A

Frequently our resident botanist and dendrologist Trustee Chris Ryan, gets requests to identify trees and plants from photos taken by people – sometimes even on overseas trips.

What tree is this?

September 2014

This request for a plant identification came from someone recently returned from Europe. The tree in question was planted in a line alongside a canal in the town of Lubeck in Northern Germany.


What tree is this?

Chris replies

This tree is one of the whitebeams, a hybrid of Sorbus aria, which is a tree commonly seen in northern Europe and often as a street tree. The whitebeam’s have simple variously toothed leaves usually with white felt-like backs that make them most attractive when rustled by the wind. They also have attractive clusters of small berries in the autumn.

Unfortunately in our warmer eastern and northern parts of New Zealand the climate is not as favourable for them as the colder central and mountainous areas.

We have two other hybrids of Sorbus aria that can be seen in the Arboretum, S. latifolia, and S. Devoniensis. These are not commonly seen in New Zealand.

There is another Sorbus with simple leaves like a hornbeam that is happier in our area that also has the bonus of good autumn colour and is a small tree. This is S. alnifolia from Japan and China, which can be grown from seed and is in our collection.

As well as the simple leaved Sorbus there are many other species with pinnate leaves called the Mountain ashes or Rowans. These again are much happier in the cooler areas but one that is worth trying here is one of the Chinese called S. hupehensis. We have this growing well in the Arboretum with its blue-green leaves and pale pink berries. This grows true from seed.

Sorbus deviensis, left. (Belcher) Sorbus deviensis foliage, right. (Belcher)
Sorbus3 sorbus4
Sorbus latifolia, left. (Belcher) Sorbus latifolia foliage, right. (Belcher)
 sorbus sorbus2