This deciduous tree or woody shrub has upright stems and oval, serrated mid-green leaves. It can reach 10m high.

Look out for: the densely white-felted underside of the leaves.

What does rock whitebeam look like?

Rock whitebeam tree in bloom

Credit: Zoonar Gmbh / Alamy Stock Photo

Leaves

Elongated oval, 8–15cm long, mid-green and undivided, with the upper half sharply toothed (with teeth often curved forward) but un-toothed towards the base. The top side of the leaf is mid-green and the underside is densely white-felted with 6 to 11 veins. The leaves are around one- and-a-half to two-and-a-half times longer than wide and are mostly widest furthest from the stalk.

Rock whitebeam flowers blossoming

Credit: Zoonar Gmbh / Alamy Stock Photo

Flowers

White, 12–16mm diameter and grow in loose clusters of white flowers in June to July, similar to those of rowan but larger.

Rock whitebeam fruit and leaves

Credit: Nature Photographers Ltd / WTML

Fruits

Deep red berries, 12–15mm in diameter, broader than long, with numerous lenticels (holes that allow internal gases to escape) scattered over the surface. The berries fruit from September to November.

Not to be confused with:

Common whitebeam (Sorbus aria) and hybrid whitebeams such as Arran whitebeam (Sorbus arranensis). However, rock whitebeam can be distinguished by its leaves which are mid-green, not grey like common whitebeam and unlobed, unlike Arran whitebeam’s.

Where to find rock whitebeam

The rock whitebeam is native to the UK and Northern Europe. It grows in rocky woodland, grassland, scrub and on cliffs, usually on limestone. Largely absent from the south-east of England and central and southern Ireland, the few trees which exist are scarce though slightly more frequent the further north you go into northern England and Scotland.

Uses of rock whitebeam

In Estonia rock whitebeam timber is overused in construction, which is one of the main threats to the country’s biodiversity.

Threats and conservation

Rock whitebeam is classified as least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Populations in the UK are not reproducing well and are lost through old age. In Northern Europe the main threats come from felling for construction and over or under grazing.

Did you know?

Rock whitebeam is an apomictic species which means it often reproduces asexually without the need for fertilisation, though it does need to be pollinated to set seeds.