We had never heard of a ‘Service Tree’ but when we read about it we decided to plant one in our mini-woodland. (See illustration).
Sorbus torminalis (The Wild Service Tree), sometimes known as the Chequers Tree is a species of Sorbus native to Europe from England and Wales east to Denmark and Poland, south to northwest Africa, and southeast to southwest Asia from Asia Minor to the Caucasus and Alborz mountains.
The Service Tree is relatively rare in Britain is now usually confined to pockets of ancient woodland, although it can also be found growing in hedgerows. It can often be found associated with oak and ash woods, preferring clay and lime based soils. In Britain, summer temperatures are often too low for the seeds to ripen, so its principal method of propagation is by suckers.
The fruit, sometimes called "chequers", are edible and taste similar to dates, although they are now rarely collected for food. They are usually too astringent to eat until they are over-ripe and blotted. They were traditionally known as a herbal remedy for colic; the tree's Latin name, ‘torminalis’ means 'good for colic'. Before the introduction of hops, the fruit were used to flavour beer, which may be related to the ancient symbol of a pub being the chequer-board. There is a great deal of folklore surrounding the fruits but it is somewhat confused. The fruits can be made into an alcoholic drink and were used to flavour alcoholic drinks such as whisky in the same way that sloe gin is made with blackthorn berries.