Irish Whitebeam Project








The Irish whitebeam (Sorbus hibernica) is one of the few plants endemic to Ireland.  It is a small sized deciduous tree, with a smooth, grey, but sometimes ridged bark.  The oval toothed leaves have 9-11 pairs of veins, are silvery white on top with a dense covering of white downy hairs on the undersides.  When leaves first open, the white undersides can make a distant tree appear white, but gradually becomes greener as upper leaf surfaces turn down and leaves loose their white covering of hairs.  The white flowers are produced from May to June in flat-topped clusters, and these are followed by the globular red fruits deepening to scarlet when ripe from September to October.

It is scarce in Northern Ireland and difficult to find.  It has been reported from about eight or nine sites, but the precise number is unknown because of confusion with common whitebeam (Sorbus aria). The number of trees at any one site is very small, most sites having 1 or 2 trees, so the total population within Northern Ireland is tiny and vulnerable.

In the first year of this project in 2010, a few berries were collected from a stand of Irish Whitebeam.  At a ‘Growing Trees from Seed’ workshop several people committed to trying to propagate these seeds – with success!  One of the volunteers now has 22 seedling Irish whitebeam trees.  As the total known population of Irish whitebeam in Northern Ireland is so small, this volunteer alone has made a significant percentage increase to the Irish whitebeam trees that we know about.

Following this success, the ‘Growing Trees from Seed’ workshop has become an annual event.  Irish whitebeam berries are collected and given to volunteers to try to propagate.  It is known that the germination of this species can be ‘hit and miss’, and although there has been some success in the following years, it has been limited.  However, things are moving in the right direction, and it does show that every tree successfully propagated through this project helps to ensure that the Irish whitebeam remains part of our local biodiversity.