Throgmorton: Plant of the Month, Serviceberry

Serviceberry is a multi-tasking plant.  It’s interesting in every season.  It grows as a shrub or a small tree.  It’s a habitat plant.  It’s durable and hardy.

Serviceberry, also called Juneberry or Sarvisberry, blooms most years in April.  Ours are just waiting for a few warm days to burst open.  The pendulous clusters of white flowers open before there are leaves.  The flowers have a light, sweet fragrance.

The flowers produce a blueberry-like fruit.  The edible fruit was used by Native Americans.  Because serviceberry is native throughout North America, it was a main ingredient in their foods.  The fruit also makes serviceberry ideal for habitat plantings.  Birds will pick a plant clean in a matter of days.

The grey-green leaves give serviceberry a soft summer texture.  The texture is a great background to other brighter colored summer flowering plants.  Don’t let those plants overshadow serviceberry in the fall.  The leaves become hues of yellow and orange-red in autumn.

Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) is the western native serviceberry.  It grows four to twelve feet tall and about six or eight feet wide.  Saskatoon grows from the Plains to elevations of 9,000 feet or more.  Once established it tolerates dry, alkaline soil.  It prefers sun but will grow in part shade.  `Regent’ is a variety selected for more and larger fruit.

Shadblow (Amelanchier canadensis) is native to eastern North America.  It’s bigger, almost twenty feet tall and twelve feet wide.  It prefers moist soil but, with deep thorough watering, can be trained to be drought tolerant.

Utah Serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis) is the most heat and drought tolerant of the shrubby serviceberries.  It’s a rangy six or eight foot shrub with billowy white spring flowers.  It’s native to Colorado’s Western Slope.

The tree-form serviceberries are all very similar.  Most varieties grow twenty to twenty-five feet tall and fifteen to twenty feet wide.  They all tend to have a rounded shape, bunches of white spring flowers, soft grey-green leaves and orange-red fall color.  `Autumn Brilliance’, `Cumulus’ and `Robin Hill’ are the easiest varieties to find.  But any tree-form serviceberry will be an excellent specimen plant or accent in the landscape.

There’s a serviceberry for every garden and every season.  That’s multi-tasking.

Tom Throgmorton, of Throgmorton Plant Management, can be heard on KUNC, 91.5 FM, every Saturday morning at 7:35 and 9:35 a.m.

Originally published on April 21st, 2011.