Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Silver-leaved Whitebeam

sorbus-aria-lutescens-leaf-640

 

Each May, this tree takes me back to the fervid months in high school when I read "Lord of the Rings."  It's my own White Tree of Gondor.  The Spring foliage emerges densely covered in very short white hairs.  "Gray" or even "silver" only begin to capture the result.  "Shining" and "aluminum-white" make progress, but are a bit clinical.

 

The Latin name—Sorbus aria 'Lutescens'—seems to get right on board with the need for rapture and singularity.  "Lutescens," which seems to synergize "luminous" or "luminescent" with "quintessence."  Foliage that's the quintessence of luminous.  I'll say. 

 

To bad lutescens actually means to become yellow.  To "lutesce," as to become more "lutea"—more yellow.  Do you see any yellow in these leaves?  Trust me, there's none all Summer either.  But  there's still a resonance with "Lord of the Rings":  Both it and this tree's name are fiction.

 

The second of the Latin names is better:  Unaccountably but thrillingly, "aria."  An aria isn't just a song; it's what a singer sings in an opera, music's biggest (and, yes, often most preposterous) art form.  Arias reveal, explore, and celebrate the singer's emotional reactions to that particular twist and turn in the plot.  Singing the aria, then, is how the singer wrestles with life.  An aria should always be important, consequential, and revelatory—and when the stars are in alignment, stunning

 

This tree's "aria" isn't just an aria, as important as any aria should be.  It's a luminous aria.  My, my.

 

Look at this somewhat wider view.  The appeal of early Spring foliage is, amazingly, even more multi-faceted than just shimmering color.  The foliage is sparse.  There aren't leaf buds every other inch.  Each bud matters

 

sorbus-aria-lutescens-wider-640

 

And then there's the upright prayerfulness, or at least a greeting of the sun.  This is foliage whose distribution and even posture are exciting too.

 

Shucks that the first word in the Latin name sags like over-ripe tomato:  Sorbus.  The name for a beast or a dullard.  Ah well, two out of three: Sorbus aria 'Lutescens'.

 

Yes, it starts low on "sorbus" but it sure finishes high on "lutescens," so there's a satisfying dramatic arc even there.  The common name of Silver-leaved Whitebeam is the reverse.  All the promise of "silver" is flattened in the description of the tree as lumber.  Whitebeam: what it looks like after the tree's been cut down, i.e., killed, and subjected to a zillion little cuts by sharp-toothed machinery.  No aria there.

 

But alive and arrayed in its Spring foliage, Sorbus aria 'Lutescens' is the star of May and early June.  Yes, the tree isn't very interesting out of leaf, and only medium-swell in Summer too.  But in Spring, it's not just an aria, it's a cadenza.  Almost a mythic moment.

 

See the How-to table below for suggestions on ways to prolong the moment further.

 

 

Here's how to grow this shining tree:

Latin Name

Sorbus aria 'Lutescens'

Common Name

Silver-leaf Whitebeam

Family

Rosaceae, the rose family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous tree.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 8

Habit

Upright and compact medium-sized oval tree, with a short trunk and comparatively few branches.

Rate of Growth

Medium.

Size in ten years

Ten feet tall, six to eight feet wide.  Matures to thirty feet tall and twenty five wide.

Texture

Although there aren't that many branches, the leaf size, to about four inches, and amount of foliage overall make a dense canopy.

Grown for

the startlingly silver-white fuzziness of the Spring foliage, beyond mere gray to a shining aluminum white.  The foliage is luminous indeed—hence the "lutescens" of its name. 

 

The leaves mature (alas) to mid-green, but their unusual shape—pointed and oval instead of an ash tree's typical pinnate—ensures that the tree retains a certain allure all season long.

Flowering season

Mid-Spring: May here in Rhode Island.  Flat round three-inch heads of small white flowers at the tips of new growth mature to large and showy red berries.  The tree is supposed to be self-fertile, but even though it's a happy grower my own singleton is a poor berrier.

 

With the intensity of the silver-white foliage right in back of them, the flowers aren't as showy as on the green-leaved species itself.  (The berries, which mature long after the foliage has "greened-out," display well.)  Unlike some other ash trees, doesn't self-seed much at all.

Culture

Full sun and well-drained soil.  Thrives on gently alkaline soil but doesn't require it.

How to handle it

If fireblight isn't a big risk where you garden, this is a tree to try.  Even if fireblight is a possibility, this is still a tree to try.  The foliage is that good.  Just don't rely on it as your garden's centerpiece, let alone plant it in multiples, where the potential loss of just one of them would screw up the geometry of the entire array. 

 

It maintains a lovely form without pruning, but I've seen pictures of specimens clipped and trained, as into an arch, say.  With the flowers the point of entry for the fireblight bacterium, clipping is also a strategy to make your tree resistant: early-Spring pruning would remove the flowers entirely.  Such a fireblight-fighting tactic would only be practical if the entire tree were trained into an accessibly low-to-the-ground form and size.  An unusual partnership, then, of pruning for health and pruning for beauty. 

 

Such clipping might also prolong the display of the sensational silver-in-Spring foliage by stimulating a second crop of new leaves—reason enough to experiment with it even if fireblight is unknown where you garden. 

Downsides

Susceptibility to fireblight, which enters the plant through its flowers in wet and warm Spring weather.  Check with your local Master Gardener group or your local USDA Extension Office to see if fireblight is prevalent where you garden; if so, consider keeping your tree healthy (as well as geometrically distinctive) via the "deflowering" pruning in "How to handle it." 

 

And enjoy Sorbus aria 'Lutescens' on your trips to great gardens where it thrives.

Variants

 There's a gold-leaved cultivar too.  (Think of it:  Gold foliage that is also "silvered" in Spring.  OMG.)  And finally, a version of this tree that is yellow.

Availability

On-line.   

Propagation

Grafting and cuttings.

Native habitat

Europe and Britain.






 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
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