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A small lax shrub, often epiphytic, perhaps sometimes a small tree; branchlets at first densely coated with a white cobwebby indumentum, soon glabrous; winter-buds glabrous or almost so. Leaves to about 6 in. long, with five to nine pairs of leaflets, which are usually not much more than 1 in. long, oblong-lanceolate, acute, glabrous above, at first coated beneath with an indumentum like that of the branchlets, later glabrous, margins reflexed, toothed only near the apex. Inflorescence many-flowered, 2 to 4 in. wide, cobwebbed with white hairs at first. Styles three or four. Fruits pink or crimson, globose, about 1⁄4 in. wide.
A native of the central and eastern Himalaya, possibly extending into Burma and China; described by Wallich in 1831, largely from a specimen which he had himself collected on Sheopore near Kathmandu in Nepal. This was in flower, and the description of the fruits was taken from another specimen, which is not the present species but S. ursina. It has also been a source of confusion and misunderstanding that he described the colour of the hairs on the undersides of the leaflets as ‘subferrugineous’. They are now fawn-coloured on the Sheopore specimen in the Wallich Herbarium and may have originally had a brownish glint originally. The younger Hooker concluded that Wallich was describing S. ursina and applied Wallich’s name P. foliolosa to that species, describing the present species, or rather redescribing it, under the name P. wallichii. Many botanists followed Hooker’s nomenclature, but others, in the present century, have taken the same view as Hedlund, the Swedish monographer of Sorbus, that Wallich’s P. foliolosa is the species here described and not S. ursina. The fact that the name Sorbus or Pyrus foliolosa has been used for two quite distinct species has been a source of confusion, especially in herbaria.
S. foliolosa is not in cultivation so far as is known (1979), but is likely to be introduced before long, as it occurs in easily accessible parts of Nepal.
In gardens the name S. foliolosa has been used for S. vilmorinii and also for a relative of that species (see ‘Pearly King’). S. foliolosa var. pluripinnata Schneid. is S. scalaris, but plants distributed under this name are near to S. vilmorinii.
S. wattii Koehne Pyrus wallichii sens. Hook. f., in part – This species was described from a specimen collected by Sir George Watt on Mt Japvo in the Naga Hills, Assam. It is certainly very near to S. foliolosa, but so far as is known, the young branchlets, undersides of leaves and inflorescence do not have the cobwebby tomentum of S. foliolosa. S. wattii was introduced by Kingdon-Ward in 1955 from the type-locality (KW 12571) as Pyrus foliolosa; according to the field-note the autumnal leaves are scarlet and the fruits rosy red, hanging in large bunches. A plant from the seeds collected by Kingdon Ward was given by the Edinburgh Botanic Garden to Col. S. R. Clarke and was grown by him for some years in his garden in the Isle of Wight and was propagated by Mr Hillier. By dint of re-grafting the species has been kept in existence in the Hillier Arboretum but evidently does not thrive on rowan root-stock. From herbarium specimens of the Isle of Wight plant and earlier propagations it would seem that S. wattii is indeed a very glabrous species, and that the hairs on the youngest leaves are brown. The leaflets are very variable, being obtuse and sparsely toothed near the apex on short shoots, acute and toothed to the base on vigorous shoots. The fruits ripened very late and were not freely borne.