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Superb Serviceberries

Native across North America, this attractive, hardy, and fruitful shrub is sweet in any garden.

| Summer 2020

serviceberry-bowl
You can cook serviceberries into a sauce that’s delicious served with cheesecake, over ice cream, or spooned straight out of the pan. Photo by Adobe Stock/Severga

Whether you’re looking for a new fruiting specimen to include in your food forest, an appealing addition to your wildlife-friendly garden, or a useful and attractive ornamental for your yard, serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.) will fit the bill. Also called “saskatoon,” “shadbush,” or “juneberry,” about 20 species of Amelanchier are found in North America. Nearly all of these are native, so anyone can find a cultivar to match their needs. Most are hardy to Zone 4, though some cultivars are tough enough to thrive in Zone 1.

Many serviceberry cultivars are good considerations for hedging material or for mixed beds with other shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Most cultivars also don’t require cross-pollination to produce fruit — a boon if your garden has limited space. The 1/4- to 1/2-inch round fruits are borne in clusters and ripen to a dark-purple hue. Despite the fruits’ resemblance to berries, they’re botanically pomes, like apples, and members of the Rosaceae plant family. Birds adore the fruit, and so do many humans! Their taste, reminiscent of almonds and blueberries, makes them popular in baked goods, and they can be turned into delicious jams, jellies, and syrups. They’re also delightful when eaten fresh. If you’re planning to grow serviceberry for its fruit, choose cultivars bred specifically for the best flavor. These include A. alnifolia ‘Pembina,’ ‘Northline,’ ‘Smokey,’ and ‘Regent.’

 bird
Birds love the fruits of these shrubs as much as humans do. Photo by Getty Images/Kirk Hewlett



Historically, serviceberries were an important part of the diets and medicines of several indigenous peoples in North America. They dried the fruit and mixed it with bison meat to form pemmican, a high-protein food used during traveling. They also added the dried fruit to soups. Tea was made from the berries, leaves, and twigs; the berries were used to treat liver ailments; and a concoction derived from the bark was employed as a remedy for stomach problems. Early European immigrants to North America realized the nutritional value of serviceberries and consumed the fruit to prevent scurvy. Today, serviceberries are valued as excellent sources of many vitamins and minerals; they contain more iron than blueberries, and are powerhouses for potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins C, B6, A, and E.

Serviceberries also provide ornamental value that can’t be overlooked. In early spring, usually early to mid-May, the beautiful clusters of white or pink five-petaled flowers are showstoppers, though the flowers typically only last a week or so before fading. The fruits are ready for harvest approximately two months after blooming, usually in midsummer. Autumn brings another treat when the leaves turn. Depending on the cultivar, fall foliage can be red, orange, or yellow. You can select cultivars, such as ‘Autumn Brilliance,’ for the maximum pop of fall color. The plant’s dark-gray bark also offers dramatic winter interest, particularly against snowy backgrounds.



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