Serviceberries (or Juneberries) are native deciduous shrubs with edible fruit.
Running Serviceberry has a suckering habit and forms thickets with multiple upright stems reaching 3 to 5 feet high. Unlike many other Serviceberries, it cannot be trained into a tree shape.
The bark is smooth on young stems, ashy-gray with darker (but faint) stripes. This is similar to the other Serviceberries.
Twigs are slender and flexible, reddish-brown without hair at flowering time. The buds are long and pointed, with a number of scales which are also reddish-brown with yellow-green margins, and usually the margins have a little fine hair. New growth is green.
The leaves are alternate, simple, ovate in shape, 1-1/2 to 3 inches long, with a toothed margin 5 to 8 teeth per 1/3 inch and usually these teeth are only on the upper 2/3rds of the leaf edge. The tip forms an abrupt point, the base is either rounded or subcordate (showing a slight heart-shape). The vein pattern is pinnate, the upper surface a pale green initially maturing to dull green while the underside is paler with many fine hair at flowering time. 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, several inches long, with 5 to 10 stalked flowers 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, tips rounded, and the lobes of the calyx are reflexed at flowering forming 5 conspicuous pointed teeth and placed so as to appear between the white petals. The inside surfaces of the sepals are hairy and usually the back side also. Flowers have 20 stamens and 5 styles. The ovary summit is rounded and with dense hair. Flower stalks are usually smooth but some may have spare hair.
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: Running Serviceberry grows in average somewhat dry well drained soils, preferably acidic, with full sun to partial shade. It will not survive as an understory shrub. The root system is rhizomatous, producing under ground stolons by which the plant forms thickets, hence the common names "Running" and "Creeping". The rhizomes can be divided to start new plants.
Names: Some references use the botanical name A. stolonifera. Most researchers consider this incorrect as the plant is believed to be a hybrid of A. stolonifera and A. canadensis. The Serviceberry genus, Amelanchier, is from the old French word amelancier, the name of A. ovalis from Provence. The species, spicata, simply means 'with flowers in spikes.' The alternate common names of 'Shadbush' come 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. The common name of 'Serviceberry' is derived from the flower clusters being gathered for use in church services in times past. The plant classification authorship is twofold: First ‘Lam.’ is for Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) French naturalist who published on botany and zoology and is known for his theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. His work was modified by ‘K. Koch’ who is Karl Heinrich Emil Koch (1809-1879), German botanist, Professor of Botany, first professional horticultural officer in Germany, plant collector in and near Asia Minor.
Comparisons: The Serviceberries have a similar form, flower structure and fruit, however the current species is one of the low-growing thicket forming type rather that one that can grow into a tall shrub or small tree. The complete list of those currently found in Minnesota is given below.
Above: Flowers are in short dense clusters of 5 to 10. The 20 stamens and 5 styles are fully exposed by the spreading petals. The plant seldom reaches over 5 feet high but its many stems can make a compact shrub.
Below: The pointed green sepals are placed between the white petals.
Below: Twigs are reddish brown. Bud scales have yellow-green margins with some fine hair. Bark is smooth on young stems, ashy-gray with darker (but faint) stripes. The underside of the leaf shows the vein pattern. Fine hair of young leaves dissipates at maturity.
Below: The edible pomes are red to dark purple at maturity. Each contains 4 to 10 small seeds. The pointed lobes of the calyx remain on the pome. Leaves are ovate, up to 3 inches long and usually toothed in the upper 2/3rds. The center fold reflects how the new leaf is stored in the bud.
Notes: Amelanchier spicata has been listed as indigenous to the Wildflower Garden but that is probably erroneous as the species, per the DNR surveys, has only been found in the 3 counties of the Minnesota Arrowhead region. It is more likely that a low growing, suckering Serviceberry in the area of Eloise Butler was A. humilis, the Low Juneberry, or A. interior, Inland Juneberry as both of those species are normally found in the Metro area. In North America, A. spicata has a current range of the northern states in the U.S. with Minnesota at the western extremity; and in the Canadian Provinces from Ontario eastward. A. spicata will grow well in the Metro area with proper soil and sun.
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 that can grow 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"