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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles
'Sorbus discolor' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online (treesandshrubsonline.
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A tree to about 35 ft high in the wild; branchlets slightly downy when young, soon glabrous, purplish brown by winter, scarcely lenticellate; winter-buds ovoid, reddish brown, about 3⁄8 in. long, almost glabrous, the outer scales sharply keeled. Leaves about 6 in. long, with five to seven pairs of widely spaced leaflets, which spread at almost a right-angle to the rachis, which is broadly grooved but not winged, almost glabrous. Lateral leaflets narrowly lanceolate, 13⁄4 to 2 in. long and about 5⁄8 in. wide, tapered to a very acute apex, but the lowest pair small and blunter, dull matt-green above, pale glaucous green beneath, at first thinly hairy, later quite glabrous, serrated in the upper half or three-quarters. Stipules persistent, leafy, up to 1⁄2 in. or slightly more long, digitately lobed, with sharp-pointed, gland-tipped lobes, glabrous. Inflorescence laxly branched, at most about 4 in. wide, its branches and the pedicels sparsely hairy at first. Flowers white, about 1⁄2 in. wide. Receptacle slightly hairy at flowering-time. Petals orbicular, broadly clawed. Styles three or four. Fruits globose, white, about 3⁄8 in. wide.
A native of north China, where it grows, among other localities, in the mountains west of Peking. It was described by Maximowicz in 1859 from what must have been a very inadequate specimen, collected by the Russian doctor P. Y. Kirilov. The plants raised in Europe from the seeds sent by Dr Bretschneider, identified as S. discolor, appear to have been S. pohuashanensis, and other plants raised in Europe not long after, received as Pyrus or S. discolor, proved to be S. commixta. But the true species was introduced to Kew from Späth’s nursery, Germany, in 1903 and again in 1924 from the Arnold Arboretum, raised from seeds collected by Hers in China. The true S. discolor appears to be no longer in cultivation in Britain, though it is grown in the Arnold Arboretum, and in the Russian Far East, and no doubt still exists in the mountains of north China.
S. ? × pekinensis Koehne ?S. × arnoldiana Rehd. – Although S. pekinensis is usually regarded as synonymous with S. discolor, there is some evidence that the plants described by Koehne were natural hybrids between S. discolor and S. pohuashanensis, both of which grow in the mountains west of Peking. The plants from which Koehne drew his description had been raised by Herr Gebbers of Wiesenburg, from seeds sent by Bretschneider or by Brandt from Peking, and others by the German nurseryman Späth. They were certainly near to S. discolor in most characters, but the fruits were originally described by Koehne as ‘rosy white, some bright yellowish red’ and in a later note as ‘dull reddish yellow or partly suffused with white, more or less translucent when ripe.’ A tree obtained from Gebbers for the Arnold Arboretum bore white fruits, but a seedling raised from it had rosy fruits and the leaflets and inflorescences were more hairy. Rehder concluded that this was the result of pollination by S. aucuparia and called the plant S. × arnoldiana. The alternative hypothesis is that the parent plant was genetically impure in the first place.
Trees cultivated as S. pekinensis, and sometimes as S. discolor, bear dull yellow or apricot-pink fruits (Majolica Yellow in plants oddly named “S. tetriensis”). In one instance the flowers are known to be mostly sterile, which may explain the shy-fruiting of these plants, none of which show any influence of S. aucuparia. In Holland plants have been raised from S. pekinensis in which the fruits are orange-yellow and in these too they are sparsely borne. (Dendroflora, No. 2 (1965), p. 33). One of these has been named ‘Schouten’.
Apart from ‘Tetriensis’, mentioned above, there are other derivatives of S. pekinensis in gardens, raised by the Dutch nurseryman Lombarts. Of these ‘Carpet of Gold’ is a slenderly branched tree of fastigiate habit, with elegant foliage. The fruits are orange-yellow, with red flecks, borne in rather sparse trusses. In ‘Golden Wonder’ too the fruits tend to be few in each truss; they are pure orange-yellow, larger than in ‘Carpet of Gold’, but the foliage is coarser.