Early Summer: Serviceberries

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Who:

Serviceberries, juneberries, shadbush, saskatoon

Amelanchier spp.

Rosaceae family

What:

Native North American bush/tree with choice edible berries early in summer.

Also commonly used in ornamental landscaping for its showy, early blooms and colorful fall foliage.

Where:

Every US state (except Hawai’i) and every Canadian province is home to at least one of 20 or more native Amelanchier species. The individual species can sometimes be difficult to differentiate (and are prone to crossbreeding), but occupy a wide range of niches, from low, wet flatlands to sloping, rocky hillsides.

And since they are often planted as ornamentals in urban and suburban environments, they can be found lining city streets or walking paths in parks all across North America.

Yes, that is me picking serviceberries in a Chik-Fil-A parking lot. They are that common!

Yes, that is me picking serviceberries in a Chik-Fil-A parking lot. They are that common!

When:

Amelanchier species bloom early in spring, soon after the long, hard freezes of the Northeast come to an end, and before many other species flower or leaf out. 

Their showy white Rosaceae flowers quickly develop into bright green, blueberry-sized fruits that ripen from pink to red to purple-black sometime in the month of June through most of their range — though they may arrive in May or July in hotter or colder climates, respectively. 

Once the berries begin to ripen, they will be present for two to four weeks or so, depending on the species and the climate.

Why:

If I had to pick just one berry as my favorite, I might have to choose the serviceberry. It has everything going for it:

  • hardy, abundant native perennial

  • delicious, nutritious berry

  • beautiful ornamental flowers, fruits and foliage

It’s one of the first berries to appear on the landscape in early summer across most of its range, so beyond being an amazing food in its own right, it’s also a harbinger of what’s to come.

You will invariably end up with stems and unripe berries to sort out. It’s all part of the process!

You will invariably end up with stems and unripe berries to sort out. It’s all part of the process!

How:

Berries ripen irregularly in clusters, so early in their season you will want to pick individual ripe berries by hand.

As the weeks progress and the berries continue to ripen, eventually you will be able to harvest whole clusters either by hand or with a berry rake, to be sorted later.

Though considered fully ripe when purple-black, I think they’re still great to eat when they’re more on the red side of maroon, so use your own judgment when determining what’s suitable for use. Sort out stems and unripe pink and green berries.

Key characteristics:

  • showy white 5-petaled Rosaceae flowers early in spring

  • distinct blueberry-like pome fruits ripening from pink to purple-black

  • smooth gray bark

The smooth gray bark of an ornamental serviceberry bush.

The smooth gray bark of an ornamental serviceberry bush.

Lookalikes:

The only berry that looks anything like a serviceberry is a blueberry, but the plants and their flowers look quite different, and are generally found in different habitats.

SamComment