Service Berry: Amelanchier species

Service Berry: Amelanchier species

One of my favorite small flowering trees or shrubs, the serviceberry has become a champaign of the native ornamental landscape. It has full season interest, early spring blooms, summer fruit and great fall color, making it a stunning edition to any garden.

Theirs a wide verity to choose from to; ranging from single stem specimens to multiple stems specimens. A good example of this plants diversity is Amelanchier canadensis, of the Eastern United State which can reach 30 ft at maturity and Amelanchier alnifolia, the Saskatoon berry of the midwest which remains a medium sized shrub. 

When ever I talk about Amelanchier, I like to explain its three most popular common names.

  1. Serviceberry: derives from the colonial period where early settlers new when this plant flowered, the ground was soft enough to bury their dead and perform a service.
  2. Shadbush: derives from Europeans noting that native Americans used this plants blooming time as a sign that the Shad where soon to migrate up the Hudson.
  3. Juneberry: quiet literally explains when the plant produces berries, that being June. Amelanchier flowers early and produces fruit early. The only other native plants producing fruit at this time are strawberries, some verities of raspberry and mulberries.


I have found that do to this species growing popularity, the proliferation of singular cultivars is producing weaker plants. This is most evident when you see thin foliage and more persistent fungal infections. Remember most cultivars are clones, genetically the same — all one plant. This makes them better targets for disease and environmental pressures. That being said the true species is much harder to find but just as beautiful. I’ve never seen one with bad flowers, fruit or foliage. 


Another consideration, despite Amelanchier being a very adaptable plant, grown in wide verity of sites and conditions. I’ve always seen them in very particular places in nature. Have it be on steep slopes in the Great Smoky Mountains or on Mohegan Island off of the coast of Maine — they seem to like cool, most air, direct sun and cool, well drained soil. 


I’d recommend if you use them as landscape ornamentals — protect the roots, make sure the soil is rich, well drained and more acidic then less. Shade the ground they grow out off but allow the crown of the tree or shrub to receive full sun. This can be achieved by planting lower shrubs several feet in front of your serviceberry, south facing, to create a cool soil surface area. Or plant serviceberries on the north facing side of a wall or short structure, which overtime the plant will grow above to receive full sunlight.

This technique ‘hot up-top, cool down-below’ is great for more northern species planted in climates which can have hot summers, like New York City, the Mid-Atlantic and Coastal New England. American mountain ash, spruces, eastern hemlock, high bush blueberry are some other examples of plant which will thrive under these conditions. 

Finally, Amelanchiers benefit for wildlife cant be understated. If you want native birds in your yard, this is the plant for you. Put on or more close to your house for endless entrainment and easy viewing, for birds will come flocking in upon the ripening of fruit in June. 


Amelanchier in bloom

Photo by:  Native Beeology  'A species of Andrena visiting a Serviceberry flower'

Photo by: Native Beeology 'A species of Andrena visiting a Serviceberry flower'

Photo by: Mackenzie Younger 'Cedar Wax Wings eating Amelanchier berries'