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 (sometimes to 40 feet).
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 time.
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 but with a variable number of stamens and styles. The most observed numbers are 15 to 21 stamens and 4 or 5 styles from a globose ovary. The five petals of the corolla are oval to an elongated oval, white, with rounded tips and a narrowed base. 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.
Varieties: Three are known in North America - var. pumila is a short shrub (to 6 feet usually) with the top of the ovary usually free of hair. The next two usually have the top of ovary with hair and can grow up to 40 feet tall - var. alnifolia and var. semiintegrifolia - the differences are in the size of the inflorescence and the length of the flower stalks. (Key in Ref. #W7, volume 9). Var. alnifolia is native to Minnesota.
Habitat: Saskatoon Serviceberry can form thickets or clumps as it has an extensive underground root system spreading from a large crown, with rhizomes. As they can thus 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 to 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.
Above: 1st photo - A small 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.
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.
Below: 1st photo- Pomes in various stages of maturity. 2nd photo - An older plant that has formed a distinct rounded clump.
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; A. bartramiana, Northern or Mountain Juneberry; A, interior, Inland Serviceberry; A. x intermedia, Intermediate Serviceberry; A. laevis, Allegheny or Smooth Serviceberry; A. sanguinea, Low or Round-leaf Serviceberry; A. spicata, Running Serviceberry or Creeping Juneberry; A. humilis, Low Juneberry. One that is not native to Minnesota, but can grow 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 them 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 Lewis and Clark but lost by them. He was the original authority on the plant, publishing in 1818 as Aronia alnifolia 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 in 1847 and is the final author.
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.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"