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Underappreciated Native Tree – Serviceberry

7 Jan 2022 12:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

Offers Blossoms, Berries, and Beauty

Looking to go Native with your plantings? If you have room for a tall shrub or a small tree, consider the multi-use serviceberry (Amelanchier).  It offers showy white blossoms in spring, edible berries in June, and fall colors in bright red, orange, and yellow.

Maturing around 15-25’ tall, serviceberry is an excellent ornamental for small landscapes. Serviceberry is naturally a multi-trunked shrub.  It can be pruned to a single-stemmed tree.  It’s easily grown in average-to-moist soils in full sun to part shade and is hardy to Zone 4.

Common name Juneberry

Flowers appear around April and are followed by edible fruits in June. Berries resemble blueberries in size, color, and flavor.  They have long been used in jams, jellies, and pies—or eaten fresh off the tree. It’s not uncommon to see serviceberry pies alongside the blueberry pies at the Iowa State Fair!

Except for two or three species they are Native North America and Canada.  There are at least two dozen species of Amelanchier trees and shrubs worldwide.  Every state but Hawaii boasts one or more varieties. The most common used in home landscapes and easiest found cultivar is “Autumn Brilliance” (A. grandiflora). Which features large white blossoms and vivid fall colors. For berry production, however, growers might prefer cultivars of A. laevis, the berries of which are reportedly plumper and sweeter than the fruits of other cultivars. Laevis (most commonly found online) has fall color comparable to other varieties.  In fact, a bit of delving online reveals a host of Amelanchier cultivars. Take your pick!

Used for centuries

The name “serviceberry”—or “sarvis tree”—may have come from the spring thaw when roads in early America became passable and colonists could once again attend church services. Another version of the name states that, with the thaw, mourners were able to have burial services for those who had died in the winter. (“Sarvis” was an 18th Century pronunciation of “service.”) Another name, “shadblow,” came from the fact that the trees blossomed at the same time the shad began to run in New England streams. “Saskatoon,” another name, derived from the Cree Indian name for the tree—which, in turn, became the name of the city in Saskatchewan. Native Americans reportedly mashed the berries and mixed them with minced meat and fat as a food for journeys.

While mostly disease free, serviceberry has the same occasional problems as other members of the apple family: rust, leaf spot, powdery mildew, and fire blight. The best way to keep these at bay is to keep the plant healthy by raking up leaves in fall, ensuring moist (but not wet) soil, and mulching to the drip line.

If you have the space in your landscape for a lovely, underused native, why not give serviceberry a try!

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