Love that Shadblow!

Another of my favorite plants is Serviceberry, Juneberry, Shadbush, Shadblow or as I prefer the more accurate…Amelanchier. (common names can be confusing while the Latin name is more specific, descriptive and oftentimes, a better sounding word). I call this a four season tree because of its spring flowers, summer fruit, bright fall color and appealing smooth light gray winter bark. It also has a wonderful open, treelike habit. Amelanchier is a small tree, native to the Appalachian region. It’s been quite popular as a landscape ornamental for many decades so you are probably familiar with it. It’s best used as a small patio tree or to accent the corner of a building. An understory of low evergreens, flowering shrubs or perennial groundcover works well around it.

When you study the Amelanchiers you will see several different species and varieties. Don’t be concerned as most forms in cultivation are very similar and hard to tell apart. As in many cases, nurseries like to attach appealing names for marketing reasons with little improvement over the original species. Of course there are exceptions, the most notable being the “tree forms”. Cities are a big market for street trees and they don’t like clump forms. So the industry has developed single stem varieties for use as street trees. I like clump trees. They look natural, work well in beds and make it more difficult for a deer to kill the tree by rubbing! Interestingly, there is also a low bushy species (Amelanchier alnifolia) grown in Canada for its fruit (Saskatoon berry).

Speaking of those fruits, they are quite edible and almost like blueberries. My wife once made a pie from them picked off a large tree in West Virginia. The only problem is that the birds also like them and they’ll take them as quickly as they ripen, often before we notice that they are ready to pick. I was recently mowing in a grove of Amelanchiers in our nursery and saw many cedar waxwings picking off the few ripening fruits among the many hard little white ones.

Where did those crazy common names come from? Serviceberry refers to the fact that the tree blooms about the same time as the ground is thawing out and graves can be dug to bury the dead from winter. Shadblow comes from the fact that the tree blooms when “shad fish” are spawning in spring. Now you know why I prefer the original name…Amelanchier.