There are many names (Saskatoon, Indian pear, shadbush) and varieties of this species. Hybrids can also form when two varieties interbreed. Height can vary from a 2 foot (60 cm) spreading shrub to a 25 foot (7.6 m) or more tree. Positive identification may be difficult, but the species itself is easy to recognize. Bark is light gray streaked with darker vertical lines. The smooth young bark becomes more flaked with age. Serviceberry is one of our first shrubs to flower, with striking white flowers in May before the leaves have even fully developed. In July and August, edible berries turn dark purple and are sweet and juicy. Leaves are oval to round and usually toothed. Slender twigs bear long, pointed buds.
Serviceberry can be found growing in most conditions, except where extremely wet or the deepest shade. It grows best in full sun and on moist, well-drained soil but can be found along roadsides, invading abandoned fields, in existing windbreaks and in woodlands.
While serviceberry can be grown from cuttings, it is seldom worth the effort. Seeds are easily collected and germination is usually quite good. Collect ripe berries during July and August and place in a small pail of dry, clean, sifted sand. Crush berries with your hands while mixing with sand. Sift mixture through a window screen, remove larger pieces of fruit. Plant this mixture of seeds and pulp into rows in the nursery, trying to get about 3 seeds per inch (2.5 cm). If you just planted the berry, which has several seeds, the fruit would probably ferment and heat up enough to damage the seeds. Seeds should be planted as soon as possible and will germinate the next spring. Germination is usually less than 50%, but growth is rapid, averaging about 1 foot (30 cm) per year.
One of the most important food sources for birds, especially those fattening up for fall migration. Berries are a preferred food of northern flicker, blue jay, American crow, gray catbird, American robin, hermit thrush, Swainson’s thrush, veery, Bohemian waxwing, cedar waxwing, American redstart, northern oriole and evening grosbeak and eaten by over 30 other species. Red squirrel, chipmunk, flying squirrel and red fox are also fond of the fruit, while in winter the twigs and buds are browsed by snowshoe hare and red fox. Ruffed grouse also eat the buds in winter. Serviceberry’s early flowering in spring makes it an important initial source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects.
Areas of Usage:
Since it has very attractive flowers and foliage, serviceberry is well suited for plantings around the home. This will allow you to get a fair share of the tasty berries before the local wildlife have a feast. They make excellent pies, wine, and preserves, so perhaps you might want to plant more than one. These plants fit in well anywhere they can get enough sun to bear fruit, although larger specimens are even found bearing fruit in forests. They do well in windbreaks, roadside plantings and along the banks of streams and ponds. They are resistant to air pollution and suitable for urban plantings.
Other common names include shadbush, wild pear, and juneberry amoung others. The four species, known to exist in PEI, are found throughout. Of these four, the Allagheny Serviceberry, regularly attains the status of a small tree, the others are shrubs. The leaves are simple, usually sharp-toothes, mostly oval, widely elliptical or heart-shaped in outline and seldom exceed 3 inches in length. The flowers, with are white and perfectly bisexual, appear in the spring before or with the leaves. They are usually bourne in clusters, sometimes in such dense masses that the branches appear to be covered in them. The fruit, a pome, is small, sweet, berry-like, and edible. It matures in one seasom, and is usually marked on top but the remains of the flowers. The wood is hard and heavy. It is used in small quantities of fishing rods and lancewood. The tree itself, is sometimes used for ornamental planting.