Serviceberries (or Juneberries) are native deciduous shrubs with edible fruit. Shadblow Serviceberry has a suckering habit but can grow to the size of small tree with multiple upright stems reaching to 25 feet high. To make the species into a tree shape, the stems must be trained as its tendency is to be a multi-stemmed shrub.
The bark is smooth on young stems, ashy-gray with darker (but faint) stripes. On mature stems it splits and furrows becoming rough.
Twigs are slender and flexible, reddish-brown with fine hair. The buds are long and pointed, with scales that have reddish-yellow to reddish-green margins and usually the margins have some to very much hair. New growth is green.
The leaves are alternate, simple, ovate in shape, 2 to 4 inches long, with a finely toothed margin. The tip forms an abrupt point, the base is somewhat rounded. The vein pattern is pinnate, the upper surface a dull medium green while the underside is paler with fine hair. The leaves are folded lengthwise down the middle in the buds (said to be 'conduplicate') rather than arranged in overlapping scales.
The inflorescence is a short dense raceme, 2 to 3 inches long, at the end of the twigs before the leaves unfurl or with the leaves in the northern part of the plants range. The inflorescence can be quite hairy as the flowers and the new leaves open up. Most hair then drops away and the leaves become smooth on the upper surface.
The flowers of Amelanchier are showy. The five white petals of the corolla are narrowly oblong, and the five lobes of the calyx are reflexed at flowering forming 5 conspicuous teeth which are hairy on inside and outside surfaces. Flowers may have up to 20 stamens with yellow-green filaments and yellow anthers and the pistil has 5 yellow-green styles.
Fruit: Flowers mature to a 1/4 - 3/8 inch pome (berry-like) clustered like the flowers on short stalks, turning to red or purple-black in late summer. Each pome contains about 4 to 10 seeds. Fruits are edible. Seed needs up to 60 days cold stratification to break dormancy. Sow fresh berries or seeds in the fall and let them overwinter.
Habitat: Shadblow Serviceberry grows in average moist - wet mesic to dry mesic - but well drained soils, primarily as an understory shrub. It has a high tolerance for shade but needs partial sun. In full sun the plant must have adequate moisture or it will defoliate. It is not tolerant of drought, air pollution or compacted soils. It's native habitat is wet marshes and swamps.
Names: The Serviceberry genus, Amelanchier, is from the old French word amelancier, the name of A. ovalis from Provence. The species, canadensis, means 'of Canada'. The common name of 'Serviceberry' is derived from the flower clusters being gathered for use in church services in times past. The author name for the plant classification, 'Medik’, is for Friedrich Kasimir Medikus (1738-1808) German botanist, director of the University of Heidelberg and curator of the botanical garden at Mannheim. The common name of 'Shadblow' comes from the East Coast where the shrub flowers in June at the time of the running of the river herring (Atlantic Shad).
Comparisons: The Serviceberries have a similar form, flower structure and fruit. The complete list of those found in Minnesota is given below. A. canadensis flowers about a week later that A. arborea.
Above: Flowers occur in a dense raceme at the end of twigs at the time the leaves unfurl (in northern areas). The spreading petals show off the up to 20 yellowish stamens and 5 styles. The globose green ovary is visible in the 2nd photo as are the hairy sepals.
Below: Flowers mature to a 1/4 - 3/8 inch pome (berry-like) clustered like the flowers on short stalks, turning to red or purple-black in late summer. Each pome contains about 4 to 10 seeds. Fruits are edible.
Below: The green lobes of the calyx are pointed and hairy - inside and out. Leaves are ovate with a finely tooth margin - usually in the upper 2/3rds only.
Below: Twigs are reddish-brown as are the buds whose scales have yellow-green margins and fine hair. Hair becomes very dense in spring as the buds open and the young leaves unfold. Hair is soon lost. The underside of the leaf is pale green with fine white hair.
Below: Buds opening in the Spring. This example with an abundance of hair.
Below: The suckering habit is normal, but, if trained, can grow to the size of small tree with multiple upright stems reaching to 25 feet high. Bark is smooth on young stems, ashy-gray with darker (but faint) stripes (2nd photo). On mature stems it starts to split and furrows becoming rough.
Notes: Shadblow Serviceberry is found in the very eastern part of North America, from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec in Canada, south into New England, west as far as New York and Pennsylvania, then down the eastern seaboard to Georgia and Alabama. It is not native to the central part of the U.S. or to Minnesota. There is no doubt that it grows well here, it is just not native. By 1914 the Park Board Nursery was growing the plant and Eloise Butler obtained 3 plants for the Garden on Oct. 28, 1914 and again in April 1917. Martha Crone reported it on her 1951 census and noted it in bloom in 1939, and Gardener Cary George reported planting it in 1987. It was not listed on the 2009 census although Susan Wilkins planted it in 2008.
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; 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.
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). In some areas, disease and pests ruin a lot of berries. Over 40 species of birds are known to feed on the fruit. In areas where the plant was plentiful, those grown as trees were used for pulpwood and for wood handles as the wood is hard and heavy.
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.”
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.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"