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The Amazing Serviceberry

5/31/2012 12:39:50 PM

Tags: edible landscape, organic, berries, tree, shrub, flowers, juice, regional, eat your yard, Nan K. Chase, urban farm, Nan Chase

In my lineup of edible landscape plants, the serviceberry plays a starring role. Yet for too many gardeners this plant is unknown. Are you ready to try something new and delicious?

Serviceberry blooming 

A small tree or large shrub in form, and bearing many names, this American native plant is beautiful in early spring for its billows of lacy white blooms and beautiful again in autumn for blazing color on the pleasing rounded leaves. In the late spring – serviceberry is sometimes called Juneberry – the fruit makes for some magical eating, as thousands of delicious purple-red berries ripen. 

Spring blossom closeup 

serviceberry fall color 

On a day like today, in mid-May this exceptionally warm spring of 2012, I can pick a gallon of the berries in about an hour. And it’s important to pick the highly nutritious berries as soon as you find them, for birds love them too, and the berries don’t stay on the tree much more than one or two weeks a year. 

serviceberry fruit  
Eat them raw; they taste much like blueberries, with an almost dry, grainy texture and a mild, sweet flavor. Bake them into pies, puddings or muffins. Dehydrate them like raisins. Make serviceberry jam or serviceberry ice cream. Or…drum roll, please…process serviceberries as pasteurized juice, mead or wine, or simmer the juice to make serviceberry syrup to use on pancakes or as a mixer with vodka and soda.

Lucky me. My house sits across the street from the back of a bank parking lot, and several serviceberry trees were evidently planted a decade or so ago to help form a landscaping screen. I watch those trees all year, and when the berries ripen I only have to cross the street with a bucket to harvest the fruit. 

serviceberry ripe 
Where do they grow? Well, practically anywhere. As native species, serviceberry trees come in many regional variations, and can thrive from the Canadian border regions to the Southern Appalachians, from the West Coast to the East Coast. And more good news: they can grow well in wet conditions and in considerable shade, as at the edge of woods or in open forest.

The many forms of serviceberry make up the genus Amelanchier; as members of the rose family they are related to such plants as the many hawthorns and the crabapples, cherries, plums, and peaches. Isn’t it amazing that we don’t know serviceberry better?

Here are some of the names and types of serviceberry: Sarvis or sarvisberry (that’s Southern, and sounds so nice), shadblow, shadbush, shadwood, saskatoon, the widely planted downy serviceberry (same as shadblow), roundleaf serviceberry, wild pear, sugarplum, wild plum, Alleghany serviceberry and Pacific serviceberry. They range in height from four feet in the uncommon running serviceberry, to a maximum of 60 feet for the downy serviceberry.

I’d like to share two places to order serviceberry species, in case your local garden center doesn’t stock them. Raintree Nursery, offers two varieties billed as service tree. I haven’t ordered serviceberry or service tree from Raintree, but I have had very good luck with everything else I have bought from them and put in the garden. Also try the wonderful Oregon stock source One Green World, which offers what look like two excellent kinds. I have loved buying plants from One Green World over the years. They are vigorous and well packaged for shipping.

Last, be patient. Once a serviceberry starts bearing, it can be highly productive. But it may take a few years to start getting fruit.


Nan K. Chase is the author of Eat Your Yard! Edible trees, shrubs, vines, herbs and flowers for your landscape.
 



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Post a comment below.

 

ncredbird
2/9/2014 8:25:57 PM
We love serviceberries! Our landscaper put a tree in several years ago and we had to literally fight the cardinals away from them come harvest time. The tree was a prolific bearer and and we would freeze them to enjoy all year long. We have now moved to a new home and the first thing we planted was a serviceberry tree.

Cindie Cohen
3/7/2013 3:36:44 PM
I am sure that the Serviceberry (Shadberry) which is a native plant is not the same as the Service Tree which is from the Urkraine and western europe. The leaves appear to be distinctively different. The Serviceberry is also available from St. Lawrence Nurseries in Potsdam NY www.sln.potsdam.ny.us/

Cindie Cohen
3/7/2013 3:30:29 PM
I am sure that the Serviceberry (Shadberry) is not the same as the Service Tree as the Service berry is native and the Service Tree is from Russia. Is this correct?

Feather Jacobs
10/25/2012 3:38:33 AM
thank you for you infornmation. we too are from asheville (but unfortunately currently jobbed in sc) cant wait to come home! we used to take service berries & mush them some, pat into little rounds & let dry. when dry we would use these ground pretty fine, in pemmican. very good & very rich! Service berries with a little sugar & a splash of lemon cooked to a jam consistancy are great with pork & chicken!

Lisa Wagner
6/8/2012 3:45:34 AM
You're lucky to have those serviceberries next to your garden! My neighbor and I wait to nab them in our neighborhood, and the birds beat us to them this year. We need to plant some of our own. Great post! Lisa

Dispassionate Reason
6/5/2012 5:24:55 AM
Is this the fruit that is sometimes called 'bullets' in the Southern U.S.?

Rebecca Reed
6/1/2012 12:02:12 AM
Great job Nan telling folks about this oft forgotten tree. I must admit, I myself know this spring flowerer for its gorgeous blooms, but forget about its edible merit. Looking forward to your next post. Rebecca Bull Reed







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