Thursday, 8 September 2011

The True Service Tree or Cormier

Wild Plants of France 5.

This beautiful tree, laden with golden fruits is growing at the far side of my daughter’s field.  The locals know it as the Cormier.  In England it is named in books as the true service tree.  But few people will recognise it.
Once it was thought to be extinct in England.  When I was young it was thought that there was just one tree growing in the Wyre Forest near Kidderminster in central England.  There, that single tree was known as the ‘whitty pear’.
Some time in the 1960’s I happened to read the work of Nennius (in translation) of the Wonders of Britain.  Nennius was a monk who lived around the year 800 in North Wales.  He gathered together all kinds of scraps of information.  I was trying to get to grips with the stories surrounding King Arthur whom Nennius mentions.
He wrote in latin ‘Juxta flumen quod vocatur Guoy, poma inveniuntur super fraxinum in proclivo saltus qui est prope ostio fluminis’.    And this is translated as:
‘Next to the river Wye apples spring from an ash tree on a slope by the river estuary.’
I happened to be living fairly near the Wye  at the time.
A friend of mine, a botanist, happened to be wandering around  the district and  he found on the banks of the Severn very close to where the Wye joins that larger river,  amongst some scrubby and neglected patches of trees specimens of this same tree.
It could not be better described as looking like an ash tree bearing small apples.
These must be descended from the same tree or trees that Nennius describes.
The leaves resemble much those of the rowan tree or mountain ash to which it is in fact related.
The fruits are, unless ripe to the point of rotting very bitter.  They almost take the lining off the teeth. Yet the Latin name Sorbus domestica reflects a culinary use.  It is claimed that they were fermented to make a form of cider.   
The wood is fine grained and excellent for carving. But generally the trees end up as firelogs. In this district of south-central France the tree is quite common growing on the edge of the abundant woods of pubescent oak. Most are felled in the recurrent process of cutting timber for firewood. There are few around as old as this specimen, though the tree is said to live to 600 years and more.   This one is perhaps towards a hundred years. 

1 comment:

Jane La Turbie said...

Interesting follow up to Alan Baratons Sunday 15th September 2013 'main verte' on France Inter concerning this tree. My Latin is a bit rusty but lovely photo and description..