At first sight, with the undersides of its white-felted leaves flickering in the wind, the common whitebeam doesn’t much resemble the typical mountain ash. Nevertheless it is a member of the large Eurasian genus of mountain ash (Sorbus), though there are many dendrologists who would like to see the whitebeams separated completely as their own genus of Aria. Typical of all 27 whitebeams species is that the leaves are (more or less) entire.
The common whitebeam is small to medium in size, with an attractive round to broadly egg-shaped habit. It has large (to 12 cms) leaves, the undersides white-haired, the base rounded, the tip more pointed. As the leaves break from their buds in spring they briefly resemble opening magnolia flowers. The flowers corymbs, which are also white-felted, open later in summer, when the leaves are fully open. Autumn leaf colour is yellow, the oval fruit ripening from green through yellow to orange and red.
When raised from seed, common whitebeam is very variable, depending on origin. Popular in Europe as a street tree, many varieties have been produced, e.g. 'Majestica' and ' Magnifica'; the young leaves of the variety 'Lutecens' is grey-felted on both upper and lower surfaces.