The Secrets of the Trees
We hold our Mystic Magic in the Forest weekend retreats at Rosliston, in Rosliston National Forest, near Burton upon Trent, just south of Derby in the Midlands. Our retreats are themed, but often include an appreciation of nature, walks, the significance of trees in Spiritual and Pagan history, and their myths and legends
This blog charts the story, in instalments, of those trees, and all of those to be found at Rosliston, around forty species. Each tree is to be found at Rosliston, but may also be found more widely around Great Britain, Europe, North America and beyond.
In these blogs I describe each tree, explain where they are found, what their history is and how they have related to our history. I also explore the myths and legends surrounding the trees in different countries and from different traditions as well as how herbalists have used them to treat human conditions and how products from the trees have been used throughout history.
I hope that you enjoy reading these tree blogs as much as I have enjoyed writing them for you. If you would like to come and see them in their natural habitat why not join us for one of our retreats?
Whitebeam – Sorbus aria
The whitebeams are members of the family Rosaceae. They are deciduous trees with simple or lobed leaves, arranged alternately. They are related to the rowans (Sorbus subgenus Sorbus), and many of the endemic restricted-range apomictic microspecies of whitebeam in Europe are thought to derive from hybrids between S. aria and the European rowan S. aucuparia; some are also thought to be hybrids with the wild service tree S. torminalis, notably the service tree of Fontainebleau Sorbus latifolia in French woodlands.
The best-known species is the common whitebeam Sorbus aria, a columnar tree which grows to 25 m (82 ft) tall by 10 m (33 ft) broad, with clusters of white flowers in spring followed by speckled red berries in autumn.
The surface of the leaf is an unremarkable mid-green, but the underside is almost white (hence the name) transforming the appearance of the tree in strong winds, as noted by the poet Meredith: “flashing as in gusts the sudden-lighted whitebeam”. It is also described as the “wind-beat whitebeam” in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “The Starlight Night”. The berries are a favourite of birds, though less palatable (drier, less juicy) than rowan berries. Whitebeams are sometimes used as larval food plants by Lepidoptera species including Short-cloaked Moth.
This tree is grown in parks and large gardens. The tough, hard wood is a deep orange when wet, and pale yellow after drying. It suited for woodturning, and was used for furniture, tool handles, and cogs before the use of iron. The berries are edible and are often made into jelly. In Lancashire and Cumbria te fruits are known as chess apples and are edible.
The Anglo Saxons used them as boundary markers. Myths and legends use the tree to both conjure and repel magic.