When I first became involved with Priors Hill Copse in 1989, I discovered a single Wild Service tree that had never been recorded on any previous woodland survey. This was a good indicator that the copse would have at some time connected with a nearby country park which has Wild Service. It was in one of the copse boundary hedgerows overshadowed by large oak trees permission to reduce the crown of a nearby oak to increase its light was refused. The rarity of the tree escaped the local authority meaning the tree chance develop and produce fruit very slim. Over the years of monitoring the tree suckers were found near the base of the tree. They where carefully lifted and taken home and potted up, given some TLC until they had developed good root balls. They were then returned to a clearing near the parent tree and replanted increasing the number to 9 trees. During my time as a Tree Warden and a proud member of Friends of Priors Hill copse I consider this is one of my proudest achievements hopefully protecting a rare native tree and allowing it to flourish
Sorbus torminalis is a conical shaped deciduous tree reaching up to 25m in height and one of Britain’s rarest trees. Grows mainly in old oak woodlands and often lime rich soils Green, triangular lobed leaves grow alternately on its stems, 5-9cm long sharply toothed and pointed turning red in Autumn Rounded head clusters of creamy white flowers appear in May turning to berry like fruits ripening brown that smell like fermenting ale when crushed. Collect fruits from tree when brown. nsure there are other trees nearby as seeds from a single tree may be sterile. Remove flesh from fruit immediately and sow. Stratification will aid germination, a large number of seeds needed to ensure some germination.
Kentish name was Chequer tree and was eaten as a cure for colic.
Seeds can be collected as soon as they ripen, they can be collected from the tree or when they have fallen. Select healthy looking groups of trees as a solitary tree is less likely to produce fertile seeds. To ensure its a native species always collect from known sites i.e., ancient wood lands, or areas which have not been cleared for farming. Do not collect from parks or roadsides as these have a good chance of not being native. If you know where your trees are going to be planted, then try to collect from that area. This will give you a good genetic match and the tree will be more likely to grow because it will have adapted to these conditions. Finally, if you intend to plant near to a nature reserve ask for permission to collect seeds from within the site and grow from that local stock, thus ensuring the right trees for the area.
Very few seeds will germinate as soon as they fall,they would spend the winter in a dormant state to prepare for germination and growth. Stratification is the method used to provide this period in a controlled condition. Each species has its own requirements for berries it stimulates decomposition of the flesh, the presence’s of which actually inhibits germination. Many seeds need a cold period before they can germinate.
You will need containers such as buckets or small plastic drums, with holes in the base and crocks for drainage. Seeds should be mixed with sand plus a peat- free compost or leaf mould, the mix should be one part seeds to three parts sand mixture. Sharp sand is ideal, it allows good drainage and the sharpness deters mice, never use sand from beaches as this contains salt.
Fill the containers with the seed and sand mix putting a layer of sand on top. Leave outside in a shaded area ensuring they do not dry out below a north facing is ideal. Every four weeks or so empty the containers out and mix the seed mixture up checking for any signs of early germination.
As sowing time approaches, in February, check the seeds for signs of germination. this is important if there has be a mild spell of weather [over 10c]. the seeds may show signs of swelling and the tip of the first root showing. Once germination starts it cannot be stopped, as seeds develop quickly it is imperative that the seeds are sown into trays or seed beds within a day or two, because the growing tip is fragile and must not be damaged when planted out. If in doubt sow early rather than waiting too long.
Experience has shown that removing the flesh and skin before stratification increases the germination rate of hawthorn, holly and rowen, this is called Maceration. Half fill a strong watertight container with berries and add two pints of water. Next take a pulverising tool e.g., a potato masher or large rounded pole. An up and down gentle pounding action will reduce the berries to mush, the resulting mash may then be stratified in the normal way. However, by removing the seeds altogether makes the process more exact by removing the seeds from inhibiting effects of the pigments contained in the skin. By vigorous washing the damp mass with hose pressure and stirring causes the skin and pulp to rise and it can be poured off. Any seeds which float can also be discarded as they are infertile, viable seeds are heavier and will sink. For small quantities of seed the seeds can be extracted by hand, however, still do the float test for viability especially on hazel nuts and beech masts. But be sure to dry seeds off before sowing because some seeds can be prone to rotting off if they get to wet.