The whimsical warning whitebeam of Watersmeet

Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!
Gerard Manley Hopkins
The Starlight Night

This is about a rather pleasing example of whimsicality. The picture shows the leaves and flowers of Sorbus aria – the common whitebeam. The second element of the common name derives from Old Englsh bēam “tree”, which is cognate with German Baum and Dutch boom. Other tree names which contain this element are quickbeam and hornbeam.

In the 1930s the botanist E.F.Warburg discovered what he thought was a new variety of whitebeam by the side of a road near Watersmeet in North Devon. He was not completely convinced that his discovery was a new species, however. In 2009 a research project headed by the National Museum of Wales concluded that it was indeed a new species and were left with the question of what to name it. The first specimen that Warburg found had a “no parking” sign nailed to it, so the first thought was to call the species Sorbus no parking. They chickened out on this proposal and finally the species was named Sorbus admonitor – “Warning Sorbus”.

By the way, isn’t whimsical a splendid word…

Photo credit: J.F. Gaffard. Used under this licence.

One thought on “The whimsical warning whitebeam of Watersmeet

  1. To my ears, “whimsical” sounds fresh, flowery and feminine –It sounds like a perfume!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.