Serviceberries (or Juneberries) are native deciduous shrubs with edible fruit.
Stems: Mature plants can reach 20 to 30 feet in height forming a narrow rounded crown with much small branching. It usually tries to form a small tree shape, usually with a few additional stems. Young bark is smooth and pale gray with darker vertical lines. Old bark becomes darker gray to reddish brown, rough with fissures and splits. Stems of older shrubs are distinctively stout.
Twigs are reddish brown in color with a few lighter color lenticels and usually with fine hair on the youngest twigs, but smooth at flowering time. Buds are long and pointed, egg-shaped to conical, with 5 to 7 scales that usually have hairy margins but can be hairless. They can be yellow-green to reddish.
Leaves are alternate, ovate shape, twice as long as broad, stalked, up to 3 inches long with finely toothed margins (nearly to the base) and a pointed tip. The leaf base is heart-shaped to shallowly heart-shaped. The undersides are paler color due to fine dense hair which can persist through the summer but at flowering time the new leaves are covered with fine gray hair. Leaves have a complex pinnate vein structure. The leaves are folded lengthwise down the middle in the buds (said to be 'conduplicate') rather than arranged in overlapping scales.
The inflorescence: Like other Amelanchier, the flowers are showy and occur in terminal raceme of 6 to 12 flowers on hairy stalks, appearing with the leaves in the northern part of the plants range.
Flowers: The five white petals are narrowly oblong with rounded tips, and the green lobes of the calyx form 5 conspicuous teeth which reflex rapidly after flowering. These teeth are hairy on the inner surface and usually the outer surface. There can also be reddish tints to the calyx. The flowers are perfect, usually with 20 stamens and 5 styles but there can be slight variation in the number of each, but less variation than many other species of this genus. The ovary is rounded with sparse to dense 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: Downy Serviceberry grows in variable sites from swampy lowlands to dry woods and sandy hillsides. It will do best in full sun and somewhat drier sites. It does not have an extensive rhizomatous root system and must reproduce mostly from seeds.
Names: The Serviceberry genus, Amelanchier, is from the old French word amelancier, the name of A. ovalis from Provence. The species name arborea, means growing to tree-like form. The common name of 'Serviceberry' is derived from the flower clusters being gathered for use in church services in times past.
The author names for the plant classification are as follows: First to classify, in 1812 assigning the name Mespilus arborea was ‘F.Michx.’ which refers to Francois Andre Michaux (1770-1855) French botanist, son of botanist Andre Michaux. He traveled with his father in the United States and his monumental work incorporating his father’s notes was The North American Sylva. His work was amended in 1941, separating this plant out as a separate species after it had been lumped in under Amelanchier canadensis, by ‘Fernald’ which refers to Merritt Lyndon Fernald (1873-1950) American botanist, Harvard Professor, scholar of taxonomy, author of over 850 papers, editor of the 7th & 8th editions of Gray’s Manual of Botany.
Comparisons: There are several Serviceberries that are similar to this one. These would include the Shadblow Serviceberry, A. canadensis, Allegheny Serviceberry, A. laevis, Running Serviceberry or Creeping Juneberry, A. spicata, and Saskatoon Serviceberry, A. alnifolia. A. arborea flowers before A. laevis, but the two are quite closely related.
Above: In a landscape Downy Serviceberry can form a tall upright shrub as this 20 foot specimen shows.
Below and Above: Note the sharp pointed teeth on the green sepals and the downy hair on those and the flower stalks. The leaves (shown in the 2nd photo as they are unfolding) are folded lengthwise down the middle in the buds and open in our area at the same time as the flowers.
Below: Leaves are 2x as long as broad with fine teeth and pointed tips.
Below: The mature fruit is an edible small pome containing 4 to 10 seeds. They have a cherry flavor when cooked.
Below: Twigs are reddish-brown with light colored lenticels. Buds can have downy hair on the scales. Bark of stems will have darker vertical lines and on older stems the lenticels will show up as small fissures. 3rd photo - the green sepals have pointed lobes, surface hair and a purplish tint.
Notes: Eloise Butler noted Downy Serviceberry in the Garden on April 10, 1910. She referenced an older name of A. oblongifolia which is no longer recognized. She planted it in 1925 and 1931. By the time of Martha Crone's 1951 Garden census, it was missing. Gardener Cary George replanted it in 1994. In North America the plants range is from the mid-continent eastward. In Minnesota, at the western end of its range, it is sparsely found, known in the wild from only 10 widely scattered counties, with only Goodhue being close to the metro area. It is planted in landscape plantings in the metro area however.
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 will 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). 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, the tree was 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.
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"