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Trees & Shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

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Saskatoon Service Berry

Common Name
Saskatoon Serviceberry (Western Shadbush, Western Serviceberry)

 

Scientific Name
Amelanchier alnifolia (Nutt.) Nutt. ex Roem.

 

Plant Family
Rose (Rosaceae)

Garden Location
Woodland

 

Prime Season
Spring flowering

 

 

Serviceberries (or Juneberries) are native deciduous shrubs with edible fruit.

Saskatoon Serviceberry grows as a shrub or into a small tree up to 20-25 feet high.

The bark is light brown, thin, smooth with tinges of red. Large trunks do not usually develop as the plant is relatively short-lived.

Twigs are red-brown, slender and hairless. Buds have reddish-brown overlapping scales with some fine hair on the scale margins.

Leaves are small, alternate, oval to almost round, with toothed edges on the upper half, but some leaves will only have a few small teeth at the tip. Both ends are rounded and the leaf has 8-13 pairs of lateral parallel veins. The leaves are folded lengthwise down the middle in the buds (said to be 'conduplicate') rather than arranged in overlapping scales. They may be hairy at first but are mostly smooth by flowering.

The inflorescence is a number of upright racemes that each contain a dense cluster of 5-15 stalked flowers, the lowest one subtended by a small leaf-like bract.

The flowers are perfect with 20 stamens and 5 styles. The five petals of the corolla are oval to an elongated oval, white, with rounded tips. The 5 green sepals are strap-like giving a tooth-like appearance. They are hairy on both the inner and outer surfaces and reflex after flowering. Flowers appear with the leaves.

Fruit: The fruits are small smooth fleshy berries (pomes) up to 1/2 inch in diameter that mature to a purple-black color with 4 to 10 seeds. Seedlings can take up to five years to form fruit and heavy fruiting occurs only every 3-5 years. Seed needs cold exposure to break dormancy. Sow fresh berries and let them overwinter.

 

Habitat: Saskatoon Serviceberry can form thickets or clumps as have an extensive underground root system spreading from a large crown, with rhizomes. As they can thicket they can be formed into a hedge. Reproduction from seed can also occur. Full sun is preferred, moderate shade is tolerated, deep shade under a tree canopy is not tolerated. Therefore, clearings and open wood edges with average soils with moderate moisture are the preferred sites. As the root system is extensive, it can regenerate after a moderate fire.

Names: The Serviceberry genus, Amelanchier, is from the old French word amelancier, the name of A. ovalis from Provence. The species alnifolia means 'with leaves like an alder'. The common name refers to the city of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, Canada which is central the the range of the plant. The common name of 'Serviceberry' is derived from the flower clusters being gathered for use in church services in times past. The common name of 'Shadbush' comes from the East Coast where the shrub flowers in June at the time of the running of the river herring or Atlantic Shad, but the name "Shadbush' more properly belongs to the east coast species - A. canadensis.. For details of the classification author name - see notes below.

Comparisons: There are several Serviceberries that are similar to this one. These would include the Shadblow Serviceberry, A. canadensis, Allegheny Serviceberry, A. laevis, and Running Serviceberry or Creeping Juneberry, A. spicata, and Downy Serviceberry, A. arborea.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Saskatoon plant Serviceberry flower Saskatoon Twig

Above: 1st photo - A small size recently planted example. 2nd photo - The white petaled flowers showing the many stamens. 3rd photo - These twigs show the dense flower clusters and the reddish brown color of small branches.

Below: The green sepals appear between the petals providing a contrasting background to the reddish-yellow anthers of the numerous stamens. The sepals are yellow-green, strap-like, and reflex as the flower matures. Anthers are yellow early and become reddish as the flower matures.

Serviceberry 'anifolia' petals Serviceberry 'anifolia' sepals

Below: Twigs are red-brown, example shown - in the spring. Leaf - fine teeth toward the tip, no teeth on the bottom half. The pale color of the underside of the leaf with vein detail.

Spring twig Leaf Leaf underside

Below: 1st photo- Pomes in various stages of maturity. 2nd photo - An older plant that has formed a distinct rounded clump.

Ripening berries mature plant
Saskatoon Service-berry

Notes:

Notes: Saskatoon Serviceberry is native to a number of counties in the western half of Minnesota plus St. Louis and Lake with populations also reported in Goodhue and Rice, but otherwise, not the metro area. Garden Curator Susan Wilkins added plants in 2008. In North America, Minnesota is on the eastern edge of the range, with the plant found westward to the west coast and south as far as Colorado, Utah and California. It is found throughout Canada except for a few of the Maritime provinces. A variety of this plant also exists, Amelanchier alnifolia (Nutt.) Nutt. ex Roemer var. alnifolia, that has the same distribution range in the state.

In Minnesota: Ten species of Amelanchier are listed as native to Minnesota by the U of M Herbarium: A. alnifolia, Saskatoon Serviceberry; A. arborea, Downy Serviceberry (also present in the Garden); A. bartramiana, Northern or Mountain Juneberry; A, interior, Inland Serviceberry; A. x intermedia, Intermediate Serviceberry; A. laevis, Allegheny or Smooth Serviceberry; A. x neglecta, Neglected Serviceberry; A. sanguinea, Low or Round-leaf Serviceberry; A. spicata, Running Serviceberry or Creeping Juneberry; A. wiegandii, Wiegand's Juneberry. The DNR does not list A. x neglecta or A. wiegandii as currently present in the state. One that is not native to Minnesota, but grows well here is A. canadensis, Shadblow Serviceberry.

Uses: The fruit of Serviceberries is of fine quality, being juicy and sweetish. Early European settlers, learning from the native population, found then most useful for puddings and pies, the seeds giving a cherry flavor. Cooked berries were great for berry muffins, (Ref. #6) and can also be eaten raw. Native plant lore has it that boiled branches made a tea for treating colds and for stomach problems. Tilford (Ref. #39) reports that the inner bark has a tannic acid content and thus when boiled becomes an astringent or anti-inflammatory treatment. A purple dye can also be made from the berry juice. A variety of wildlife feeds on the berries.

Merritt Fernald (Ref. #6) wrote “Few wild fruits of such excellent quality as the Serviceberries are less known to the modern American, although by the Indians and the early European explorers of the continent the berries were among the most esteemed of our native fruits.”

Authority: The author names (Nutt.) Nutt. ex Roem. are as follows: ‘Nutt.’ is for Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859) English botanist who lived and worked in America from 1808 to 1841. On his many expeditions he collected many species that had been originally collected by Louis and Clark but lost by them. He was the original authority on the plant, but it was incomplete and and additional information was provided by ‘Roem.’ who is Johann Jacob Roemer (1763-1819) Swiss botanist who with Joseph Schultes published the 16th edition of Linnaeus’ Systema Vegetabilum. Finally, Nuttall (Nutt.) republished the classification and is the final author.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

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