Gardeners are always on the lookout for attractive garden trees that are naturally compact and Sorbus bissetii, a newly-available rowan (or mountain ash) from China fits the bill nicely.
Reaching only about 4m in height, and a width of about 2m, with bushy growth and a narrow habit, some growers report it remaining shrubby and noticeably shorter.
The usual heads of white flowers are followed by delightful berries that are pinkish or purplish at first, depending on how shaded they are by the foliage, they then mature to white with faint pink tints.
Not only are the berries very pretty but they sit beautifully against the almost ferny foliage, split into as many as fifteen pairs of leaflets, which turns to rich purple in autumn just as the berries are becoming paler.
Seed of Sorbus bissetii was originally collected in China, in the southwest of Sichuan province way back in 1937, by the Chinese collector T T Yu (under the number Yu 14299). A single plant growing at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (under the wrong name) was spotted by the renowned Sorbus expert Hugh McAllister who recognised it as a distinct species.
The specimen, the only one in cultivation anywhere, was in poor health but seed was sent by Leslie Bisset, Assistant Curator at the garden at the time, to McAllister at Ness Botanic Gardens at the University of Liverpool and germinated. McAllister named the new species for Bisset.
Sorbus bissetii proved to be apomictic, coming true from seed without fertilisation, and seed was distributed from Ness. Over the years it was recognised that the tree deserved to be grown more widely. Grafted plants of this species are now being distributed under the name Sorbus bissetii Pearls, and are becoming available from the RHS Plant Shop and from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.
See also: Top 10 flowering trees for small gardens.
*Please note, the contents of this blog reflect the views of its author, which are not necessarily those of the RHS.