Lesser Whitebeam

Sorbus minima

Red List status


Related spirits



Framed by the dramatic limestone cliff of Craig-Y-Cilau in Wales, grow some of the most rare trees in Britain. The lesser or least whitebeam is a slender, deciduous shrub that reaches three metres in height and the largest population in the country is found here. Craig-Y-Cilau holds special interest for us given close family ties to the area and numerous walks over the years into this striking landscape.

Tim Rich, author and whitebeam specialist ventured with us, to show us where the trees grew and gather seeds from a collection of Sorbus trees in November 2014. To date, Cambridge University Botanic Garden has successfully germinated and nurtured a number of Sorbus minima saplings, S. rupicola and S. anglica.

The genus Sorbus is a taxonomically complex group with over 40 species occurring in the UK. This complexity is driven by a process of hybridization resulting in polyploid taxa that reproduce largely asexually (apomixis).

The University Garden’s collection of native Sorbus species is one of the most important yet least known, and it was the first Director, Humphrey Gilbert Carter, who started the interest in Cambridge.