London Trees & Shrubs – White Beam
The White Beam is listed as a hardy ornamental flowering tree or shrub, by London Tree Surgeons and the horticulturalist A D Webster, suitable for London.
It should be noted that this species must not be called the White Beam-tree, for the word beam is the Saxon equivalent for tree. Other names for it include Hen-apple, Cumberland Hawthorn, Hoar Withy, Quick Beam, and Whipcrop.
PYRUS ARIA.—White Beam. Europe (Britain). A shrub or small-growing tree, with lobed leaves, covered thickly on the under sides with a close, flocculent down. The flowers are small and white, and produced in loose corymbs. It is a handsome small tree, especially when the leaves are ruffled by the wind and the under sides revealed to view. The red or scarlet fruit is showy and beautiful.
White Beam (Pyrus aria).
Owing to its very local occurrence, the White Beam, though widely distributed, is one of the less known of our trees and shrubs. It comes into both these categories according to the situation of its growth, for whilst in exposed mountainous localities a specimen of mature age may be no more than four or five feet high, and of bush-like growth, under the lee of a wood, and on a calcareous soil, it will be an erect and graceful tree of pyramidal form, whose apex is forty feet from the ground. In its early years growth is tolerably rapid, but at the age of ten it slackens pace, and after it has attained its majority its progress is very slow. Its wood is fine-grained, very hard, white, but inclining to yellow. The bark is smooth, and little subject to the cracks and fissures that mark the Apple-bark. The branches, except a few of the lowest, all have an upward tendency.
White Beam. A, fruits.
The leaves vary considerably in the several forms or sub-species, but in the typical form they are a broad oval, with the edges coarsely toothed or cut into lobes, the upper side smooth, and the lower side clothed with white cottony down, the almost straight nerves strongly marked. The white flowers, which appear in May or June, are only half an inch across, and gathered into loose clusters. They are succeeded by nearly round scarlet fruits, half an inch in diameter, known in Lancashire and Westmoreland as Chess-apples. The tree is also known in the same districts as Sea Owler, the latter word, according to Prior, being a corruption of Aller or Alder, probably from the resemblance of the plaited leaves to those of Alnus glutinosa. These Chess-apples are very sharp and rough to the taste, but when kept like Medlars, till they “blet” or begin to decay, are far from unpleasant. Birds and squirrels eagerly seek for them on the tree, and those that fall are as welcome to hedgehogs and other mammals. This form is only found from the Midlands to the South of England as far west as Devon, and in Ireland.
The sub-species latifolia (Pyrus rotundifolia of some botanists) has broader leaves, varying from oval-oblong to almost round, divided into wedge-shaped lobes, the cottony down beneath being grey rather than white, and the nerves less prominent on the underside. This form is found in Cornwall.
The sub-species scandica (also known as Pyrus intermedia) has the leaves less tough, more deeply divided into rounded or oblong lobes, and the grey cotton beneath of a looser character. This form is found in Scotland.
The Wild Service (Pyrus torminalis) is a small tree of local occurrence, which does not extend further north than Lancashire. In general appearance it may be taken for the White Beam, but closer inspection will reveal the following differences. The leaves, which are cut into tapering lobes and coarsely toothed, are heart-shaped at the base; when young they are slightly downy beneath, but when mature they are smooth on both sides. Though the flowers are similar in size and colour to those of the White Beam, the fruit is smaller (one-third inch in diameter), less globular, and more like a large haw, though the colour is greenish-brown. The flowers appear in April and May, and the fruit, which is of a very dry, juiceless character, is ripe in November. In some localities these fruits are marketed, but they require to be kept like Medlars, until decay sets in, before they are fit to be eaten.
Flowers of White Beam.
Bole of White Beam.