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I found myself in the Brecon Beacons on Sunday after a family gathering. I’ve always thought of the Brecon Beacons as a biodiversity coldspot but I realised prior to this trip that I could potentially tick six species of Whitebeam including three which are restricted to this part of Wales. I didn’t have time to purchase Tim Rich’s BSBI Sorbus Handbook but I was able to get some Sorbus gen from Dave Gibbs, albeit from maybe 20 years ago before Google maps and GPS.

I have been talking vaguely about going to see all the British (and Irish) Sorbus for years but this is the first time I have actually done anything about it. What appeals to me about the idea is that they almost all grow in nice parts of Britain that I’ve spent very little, if any, time in: North Devon, Avon Gorge, Brecon, Monmouthshire, Montgomeryshire, Wye Valley, Anglesey, West Lancs, Westmorland, and Arran.

But after Sunday’s experience, I now realise that seeing all the Sorbus would be a major undertaking. My main problem at Craig y Cilau was that the trees only grow where sheep cannot reach them. And I am considerably less agile on the mountains than a Welsh sheep. And with most of the leaves already fallen, it wasn’t the best time of year for it. Plus I was getting a thorough drenching, right down to my undergarments, though I was able to retreat to the caves to consult my increasingly sodden copy of Stace.

Taking refuge.

I found Least Whitebeam Sorbus minima to be the commonest species, though it is known only from this 10-km square and nowhere else in the world.

Leaves of the same Sorbus minima tree.

I only found one English Whitebeam Sorbus anglica that I was confident of.

Some fallen leaves from below the Sorbus anglica.

This one looked good for Rock Whitebeam Sorbus rupicola.

Detail of the Sorbus rupicola showing leaf shape. 29.v.2013: Andy McVeigh and I checked my herbarium sheet with the Sorbus handbook and confirmed this as rupicola.

I think this is either S. porrigentiformis (Grey-leaved) or S. leptophylla (Thin-leaved), probably porrigentiformis. Though I wouldn't be greatly surprised to be told it is rupicola. I think this photo says everything about the conditions on the day, and this was as close as I dared to get. 29.v.2013: leaves collected from below this tree confirmed as porrigentiformis by Andy McVeigh and I.

Leaf of the same porrigentiformis/leptophylla tree.

The large Sorbus leptophylla tree described as forming a carpet against the cliff prior to Agen Allwedd cave must be dead and gone. I’m sure with more time and better weather I could have found all five Sorbus species at this site but I’ll give it another go some day, and also try to visit Craig Penmoelallt at Merthyr Tydfil for Ley’s Whitebeam Sorbus leyana.


  1. Mum says:

    Very impressed with your researching on such a wet day. We wondered how you were getting on. Thank heavens for the cave.
    Hope the trip to Shetlands works out and the rare bird visits you there!

  2. The white beam sp has just come into my consciousness as I am reading Peter Marrens excellent book about Britains rare flowers so particularly enjoyed your post – thanks

  3. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks Peter.

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