Family: Rose plants (Rosaceae)
Type: Whitebeam (genus Sorbus)
English names: Chequer(s) Tree, Checker(s) Tree, Wild Service Tree
The Chequer Tree is one of the "jewels" of the European forest, as it is seldom found. In Southern Germany ther is really only a considerable number of individual trees in Central and Lower Franconia, mainly in clayey soil where there is only moderate rainfall.
Among foresters the tree is renowned for the extremely high prices that are paid for individual tree trunks. In D-Mark times there were top prices of up to 10,000 € per cubic metre of solid timber (Forestry Service of Sailerhausen, 1997). Even today it is not unusual to ask several thousand euros for a cubic metre of Chequer solid timber.
The euphoria for Chequer has indeed abated somewhat. However there is still a great demand abroad for this fine timber. The Chequer Tree in German has been called "The beautiful Else" (derived from it's German name "Elsbeere") because it has such a beautiful shape. In fact this tree has indeed been given numerous names. The hard, strong wood reminds one of the Pear and it is thus called the Swiss Pear Tree - just like the True Service Tree, to which it is related.
The wood of the Chequer is reddish-white in colour, similar to that of the Cherry Tree, and yet slightly pale yellowish not unlike the Pear Tree. It is one of the most interesting of the European timbers. It is a dispersive-porous timber and the centre is the same colour as the rest of the wood. This wood is used especially for high-quality measuring instruments, musical instruments, machine-parts and is obviously needed for turnery. Children's wooden rulers used to be made from the wood - what a waste!
The leaves are similar in shape to the Maple but remind one of the leaves of the Red Oak. They lap over one another in three or five pairs - bright, shiny green on both sides. In autumn the leaves glow in a darker or lighter deep red.
In Bavaria the Chequer Tree mainly grows in the Lower Franconian shell limestone area, in the clayey soil of the Keupers, in the Jurassic and in the clayey Neolithic moraine of the five-lakes region. Occasionally you can find it in the valley of the Lower Danube between Regensburg and Passau. However the Chequer does not necessarily need clayey soil.
For a long time the Chequer was neglected by the forestry and usually had to stay in the stand's understorey. However, like all the types of Sorbus, it needs quite a lot of light - unlike the Whitebeam and the Rowan, to which it is related and which can stand the cold (these two trees can be found at well over 1000 metres above sea-level and they are thus known as pioneer trees). The Chequer definitely likes it warmer and can cope with arid conditions as well. However it still stands the cold reasonably well and is relatively resilient to late frost. In times of climate change the Chequer is an interesting tree with obvious prospects for the future.
The Chequer can grow for over 200 years. It grows in warm places on arid soil and on soil where aridity and rainfall alternate. Then, often no more than a shrub, it is forced to make way for the Beech tree , retreating nearly to the arid belt of the forest, where it is usually prevented from thriving by all the other, stronger trees.
Old, individual Chequer trees which have been well looked after for a long time and which have enjoyed favourable light conditions remind of oaks. Trees that have been suppressed have a slim crown, divided early on into one main shoot and one or several strong, upright side branches.
The Chequer often reproduces in an autonomous manner (not by sexually produced seeds in fruit) by a kind of coppice, whereby the shots sprout from roots growing near the surface, only a few metres away from the trunk. If the Chequer has sufficient light and is well cared for it can, at times, grow faster than oaks do.