A vigorous, healthy tree with glossy foliage, unusual little fruits and a uniquely French character.
Just to the south of The Hub, where paths cross amongst the sports pitches, is a vigorous, healthy tree with glossy foliage, unusual little fruits and a uniquely French character. It’s the alisier de Fontainebleau - or Service Tree of Fontainebleau (Sorbus latifolia).
This medium-sized, deciduous tree comes from the dense forests around the town and palace of Fontainebleau, south of Paris. It’s a hybrid - a cross between the wild service tree and trees of the whitebeam group - but unlike many hybrids it can grow true from seed. There are many of these trees in the Fontainebleau woods, but they’re rare elsewhere except when planted as part of a garden design. Some have naturalised in Britain - there are quite a few wild trees around London - although they’re very unusual further north.
Latifolia means ‘broad-leaved’ in Latin and the leaves of this tree are often as broad as they are long. In spring the tree produces creamy-white flowers with yellow stamens. The little orange-brown fruits are edible, and they were sold at the market in Fontainebleau until the 1950s. Although they look like berries, they’re actually pome fruits - more like tiny crab apples, quinces, or the fruit of the rowan tree.