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Plants from the Ground Up

Amelanchier – A Fruit of Many Names

To my mind few sights are as pretty as when the flowers of the Amelanchier start to bloom. The pure-white clusters are made up of many (1-20) five-petaled flowers which are either erect or drooping depending on the species. The flowers give way to wonderful dark-purple pome fruits which are reminiscent of blueberries. The seeds have a distinct almond flavor that adds to their appeal. Amelanchier tend to be shrubby and spread by suckers, although some do take more of a tree form. Their leaves are deciduous, pale to medium green, simple and hang in an alternate arrangement. The fall color can also be quite spectacular ranging from yellow to brilliant red. Amelanchier is found growing in many regions of the Northern Hemisphere, from the U.S. and Canada to Asia and Europe. It is interesting to note that every single U.S. state has a native Amelanchier except Hawaii. The many species have hybridized and it can be very difficult to distinguish between them. All need similar conditions to thrive, good drainage, air circulation and adequate moisture. Air circulation is critical as they are subject to rust, powdery mildew and fireblight.

Amelanchier ovalis SNOWY MESPILUS/SERVICEBERRY

Amelanchier ovalis
SNOWY MESPILUS/SERVICEBERRY

Some of the many names of this wonderful shrub have a fascinating history to them. Often called ‘Shadbush’ since it blooms when the shad run in New England rivers. It is sometimes called ‘Juneberry’ since many of its species have berries which ripen in June. The name ‘Saskatoon’ originated from the word misaskwatomina which is the Cree word for the berries. Perhaps the most novel story is the one that gives it the name Serviceberry. In the Appalachian Mountains the roads were impassible in the winter, right about when Amelanchier started to bloom the roads cleared and circuit-riding preachers could resume services.

Amelanchier is quite useful as its berries are edible and make delicious pies, jellies and jams. The berries were also dried and used as an ingredient in Pemmican. The wood is close-grained and quite heavy and was used for tool handles and fishing rods. The Native Americans used the wood for arrow shafts.

Amelanchier can be propagated by taking semi-ripe cuttings in the summer time. They are exceptionally hardy with some species hardy to USDA hardiness zone 3.

Some of the Serviceberries found in gardens today are:

A. alnifolia Western Serviceberry or Saskatoon

An excellent shrub which is native to North America from Alaska and Canada to the western and north-central United States. It is commonly found growing as a forest understory plant.

Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Smokey’ SASKATOON

Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Smokey’
SASKATOON


 

A. canadensis Shadbush or Serviceberry

This species appears in Canada and in the Unites States it is found growing from Maine to Alabama. It is usually found growing in damp soils especially on the Atlantic coast.

Amelanchier canadensis SHADBUSH SERVICEBERRY

Amelanchier canadensis SHADBUSH SERVICEBERRY


 

A. ovalis  SNOWY MESPILUS or SERVICEBERRY

This species is native to Europe, Asia and the Middle East. It is notable in that it grows larger than other Serviceberries and can make a lovely small flowering tree.

Amelanchier ovalis SNOWY MESPILUS/SERVICEBERRY

Amelanchier ovalis
SNOWY MESPILUS/SERVICEBERRY

 

For more photos and information, see Amelanchier at the Forestfarm Store.

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