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A tree to 50 ft high; branchlets slender, grey-brown or purplish brown, soon glabrous; winter-buds reddish or purplish brown, glabrous except for some hairs on the margins of the scales and at the apex. Stipules on both sterile and flowering shoots small, soon falling. Leaves (including petiole 1 to 2 in. long) 4 to 7 in. long, with four to eight pairs of leaflets spaced 1⁄2 to 7⁄8 in. apart; rachis grooved, not or scarcely winged. Leaflets oblong or oblong-elliptic, sometimes oblong-obovate, 1 to 21⁄4 in. long, 5⁄8 to 7⁄8 in. wide, apex acute to obtuse or rounded in general outline, but often prolonged into a slender cusp or a thread-like mucro, glabrous and (in most cultivated plants) sea-green above, underside papillose, glabrous except for sparse white hairs at the base of the midrib, margins serrated, sometimes almost throughout, but in most cultivated plants only in the upper one-third or one-quarter. Flowers white, about 1⁄4 in. wide, produced in May or early June in rather loose trusses; inflorescence-axes slightly hairy or glabrous, sparsely lenticellate, often becoming brilliant red. Stamens with cream-coloured filaments and pink or purple anthers. Styles four or five. Fruits globose, about 5⁄16 in. wide, porcelain white except for a pink flush at the tip, or sometimes crimson-pink throughout. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 96.
Native of China, from Shensi to Yunnan, east into the central provinces, possibly extending into upper Burma and the Mishmi Hills of Assam. It was described from a specimen collected by Wilson in 1901 in W. Hupeh but he did not send seed until 1910, under W.4155, from the Min valley of W. Szechwan; the corresponding field-specimen is the type of S. aperta, here included in S. hupehensis. The greater part of the cultivated stock derives, however, from Forrest’s sendings from N.W. Yunnan. The first of these was in 1910 (F.5550 from the Lichiang range), but the common white-fruited form of S. hupehensis derives from seeds collected during his 1917-19 expedition. The task of packaging and distributing the harvest of these two years was undertaken by the Royal Horticultural Society, who sent out the seed of this sorbus under the provisional number ‘A.1812’. Recipients of this seed were later told, owing to a mis-identification by Sir William Wright-Smith, that A.1812 was ‘S. wilsoniana f. glaberrima’ and it was under this name that Forrest’s white-fruited S. hupehensis was grown in gardens for some years. The seed most probably came from the Lichiang range. This form of the species grows vigorously, and has attained a height of 50 ft in gardens. The white fruits, on brilliant red stalks, persist for some months after the leaves have fallen, and the autumn colour on some soils is red and yellow, or orange-yellow. It was this form that received an Award of Merit in 1930.
There is another form of S. hupehensis in cultivation, also introduced by Forrest, possibly under F.19645, collected in Yunnan on the Mekong-Salween divide. It was originally grown as “S. wilsoniana”. The most obvious difference between this and ‘A.1812’ is that the fruits are crimson-pink or at least strongly tinged with that colour. Dr Fox observed in his notes that in the Winkworth Arboretum this form expands its leaves a month earlier than in the white-fruited form, that the flower-buds and pedicels are tinged with pink, and the anthers deeper pink or red. The leaves on this tree are very glaucous and in autumn assume a beautiful crimson-red, harmonising with the colour of the fruits. There is no valid distinguishing name for the crimson fruited form. A selection from it has been named ‘November Pink’ in Holland and another received an Award of Merit on 23 October 1962 when exhibited by the Sunningdale Nurseries as S. hupehensis “Rosea”. A seedling with crimson fruits and good autumn colour, named ‘Rufus’, was raised at Windsor and received an Award of Merit on 21 November 1967 when shown by the Crown Estate Commissioners.
The practice has grown up in gardens of distinguishing the pink-fruited form as S. hupehensis var. obtusa or as S. oligodonta. These names are perfectly valid, but would be equally applicable to the white-fruited form. The variations on which some botanists have made distinct species, or varieties, out of the numerous variations of S. hupehensis, are based on foliage characters, and not on the colour of the fruits.
The tree mentioned in the 7th edition of this work under the name S. hupehensis var. rosea (A.M. 1938) was Malus hupehensis.
specimens: Borde Hill, Sussex, North Park Garden, 50 × 41⁄2 ft (1974); Hidcote, Glos., 50 × 33⁄4 ft (1983); Caerhays, Cornwall, 33 × 43⁄4 ft (1984); Edinburgh Botanic Garden, 42 × 41⁄4 ft (1985); Drummond Castle, Perths., 46 × 4 ft at 3 ft (1985).
† S. forrestii McAllister & Gillham S. prattii sens. Hand.-Mazz., not Koehne – Allied to S. hupehensis, differing in the larger fruits and the mostly more numerous, rather distant lateral leaflets, in up to nine pairs. The fruits are white, with a pink flush at the calyx. Introduced by Forrest in 1921 from the Beima Shan of north-west Yunnan (F.19583), and described in 1980. Bot Mag., n.s., t.792.
According to Forrest’s field-notes, it makes a shrub 25-40 ft high. A specimen in the University of Liverpool Botanic Garden at Ness, twenty-five years planted, was 15 ft high in c. 1980. Breeding apomictically, S. forrestii can be safely raised from seed. Dr McAllister states that plants had earlier been distributed from Ness under the tentative name S. discolor and also under the erroneous number F.18593.