Serviceberries (or Juneberries) are native deciduous shrubs with edible fruit.
Allegheny Serviceberry can grow to the size of small tree with multiple upright stems reaching to 20 to 30 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 hair. New growth is green.
The leaves are alternate, simple, ovate in shape, 1-1/2 to 3 inches long, with a finely toothed margin. The tip forms an abrupt point, the base is rounded to slightly heart-shaped. The vein pattern is pinnate, the upper surface a dull medium green while the underside is paler with fine hair only along the midrib. When young, leaves are often bronze in color. The leaves are folded lengthwise down the middle in the buds (said to be 'conduplicate') rather than arranged in overlapping scales. Fall leaf color can be a nice yellow to yellowish-red to purplish red depending on the annual seasonal variations.
The inflorescence is a short dense raceme, about 4 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 flowers of Amelanchier are showy. The five white petals of the corolla are narrowly oblong, and the lobes of the calyx (the sepals) form 5 conspicuous teeth which reflex after flowering. These lobes are densely hairy on the inside and outside surfaces. Flowers may have up to 20 stamens and 5 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 cold exposure to break dormancy. Sow fresh berries and let them overwinter.
Habitat: Allegheny Serviceberry grows in average somewhat dry well drained soils, with full sun. It will survive as an understory shrub but needs partial sun to flower well. The species grows fast but can be short lived.
Names: The Serviceberry genus, Amelanchier, is from the old French word amelancier, the name of A. ovalis from Provence. The species, laevis, means 'smooth stemmed' from which is derived the alternate common name of 'Smooth Serviceberry. The alternate common name of 'Allegheny Shadblow' 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 that name more properly belongs to the east coast species - A. canadensis. 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, ‘Wiegand’, is for Karl McKay Wiegand (1873-1942) American botanist, head of the botany dept. at Cornell University and authority on taxonomy and author of over 100 papers.
Comparisons: The Serviceberries have a similar form, flower structure and fruit. The complete list of those found in Minnesota is given below. A. laevis is similar to A. arborea, but flowers slightly later.
Above & below: 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 yellow-green styles.
Below: The lobes of the calyx are pointed and very hairy. Leaves are ovate with a finely toothed margin.
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: Twigs differ slightly between fall (1st photo) and spring (2nd photo) when the color changes to more pronounced reddish-brown and the buds show fine hair. The leaf underside is a pale green with whitish hair along the mid-rib.
Below: Fall leaf color can be a nice yellow to yellowish-red to purplish red depending on the annual seasonal variations.
Below: A. laevis takes the form of a multi-stemmed shrub but with pruning and training can form a small 25 foot tree shape. Bark on the mature stems splits and furrows becoming rough. Bark is smooth on young stems, ashy-gray with darker (but faint) stripes.
Notes: Allegheny Serviceberry is not indigenous to the Garden, however, Gardener Cary George reported planting it in 1987 and 1998. Garden Curator Susan Wilkins added additional plants in 2008. It is native to Minnesota and found primarily in the NE quadrant of the state and south along the St. Croix River to the metro area and then south in the counties along the Mississippi River. In North America it is found from Minnesota and Ontario eastward to the coast - generally east of the Mississippi River in the U.S. except for Mississippi and Florida.
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. 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). 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"