Whether for fruit production, habitat or beauty, serviceberry is an excellent addition to any landscape. You might know these plants by other names such as Juneberry, named for the month when fruits ripen, sarviceberry, and shadbush referring to the plants bloom time “when the shad (river herring) run”.
There are about twenty plant species within the serviceberry genus, Amelanchier, native to temperate regions in North America, Europe and China. The greatest variety within this genus is found in North America, where at least one species is native to every state within the United States except Hawaii. For example, Saskatoon serviceberry is native to the Great Plains from Manitoba and Saskatchewan to Nebraska. Allegheny serviceberry is native from Newfoundland to Georgia and Alabama, west to Michigan and Kansas.
Serviceberry has so many great characteristics, it’s amazing that we don’t find one it every yard. They produce clusters of small white flowers in spring, followed by blueberry-sized green fruits ripening in June to a dark purplish-black. In summer plants have clean, medium-green foliage, meaning they are not attacked by many leaf-feeding insects so their foliage stays nice-looking all summer. They also have a nice fall color, ranging from yellow to apricot-orange to deep dusty red. What’s not to love?
As a small ornamental tree, it’s hard to beat Downy serviceberry, Amelanchier arborea. It has alternate, oval-shaped leaves that are medium to dark green, and when young may be covered with small hairs on the undersides. It forms a large, multi-stemmed shrub or small tree and when unpruned reaches 15-25 feet in height. Downy serviceberry is hardy to zone 4 and should be grown in well-drained soil with full or partial sun. It blends in well at the edges of wooded areas, along ponds or stream banks, or in shrub borders.
Drooping spikes of white flowers are produced in spring and followed by a berry-like fruit. The fruit changes from green to red, finally ripening to purplish-black in June. The fruits are edible and sweet. However, birds love them too so if you plan to harvest, provide some protection!
The cultivars below grow well in Nebraska landscapes and are crosses between Downy and Allegheny serviceberry, A. laevis.
- ‘Autumn Brilliance’ – often grown as a multi-trunked tree or large shrub, height 15-20′, brilliant red fall color
- ‘Robin Hill’ – upright oval form, height 20-30′, yellow to red fall color
- ‘Rainbow Pillar’ – tight upright form, height 25′, mottled yellow, orange and red fall color
- ‘Standing Ovation’ – upright oval form, height 10-20′, orange-red fall color
For fruit production, Saskatoon Serviceberry, A. alnifolia, is the best choice. It grows as a multi-stemmed shrub usually reaching 3-10 feet in height depending on the cultivar grown. Plants are adaptable to Nebraska’s harsh weather extremes and alkaline soil. But if possible, protect plants from harsh summer or winter winds and provide good moisture for best fruit production.
Fruits ripen in June or July. Prairie Indians mixed serviceberry fruits with buffalo meat and fat to make pemmican, their main winter food.
One good fruiting cultivar widely available locally is ‘Regent’. It’s a compact shrub, only 4-6′ tall by 4-8′ wide, with extra sweet fruit. It has nice fall color and plants don’t sucker much from the base so they stay in place in your landscape.
Adding serviceberries to your landscape will provide spring flowers, fruits, and great fall color. And you’ll create habitat for summer songbirds. Consider adding a serviceberry to your landscape this fall!
Header Image – Serviceberry, Amelanchier alnifolia, fruits ready to harvest. Mary Ellen (Mel) Harte, Bugwood.org