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The Monday Garden
Great Americans: Serviceberry (Shadbush)

Issue No. 65 - June 22, 2003
by Sue Sweeney

In the Northeast, last month we were 3" behind in annual rainfall and today, we're approaching our 100-year record. Yesterday, it was hard to glimpse daylight, let alone appreciate the year's longest day.

This bird-friendly, easy-care serviceberry, gracing a friend's front yard, brightens a rainy June day.


Serviceberry is one of North America's amazing small-sized native trees. It's four-season gorgeous, great for wildlife, and hardy as can be. The scientific species name is Amellanchier. There are several varieties whose regional names include shadbush, shadblow, bilberry, Saskatoon, Juneberry, and Indian pear.

Along the Hudson, it was named for the shad because the tree's small white flowers appear just about the time the shad fish swim upstream to spawn. In nature, you often see it growing at the edge of a wooded area where gets the benefits of being part of the forest understory but with a little more sun.

Like apples, it's a member of the rose family. The eye-catching early flowers are followed by berry-sized apple-like fruit that turn purple when ripe. The leaves can have an attractive bluish cast that adds variety in the summer. The leaves then turn nice shades of yellow, orange and/or red in the fall. The graceful branches add to the winter garden.

In the yard, it can be grown as a large shrub or small tree. Depending on the variety and conditions, it grows to 15'- 25'. I hear that there is a 2' bush variety that I'd love to get to attract birds to my mother's garden.

While it likes some sun and moderate moisture to bear fruit, it survived well in our recent drought and does well in part shade. Its native range includes a good part of Canada and it's reported to thrive at least as far south as Georgia (about zone 3 to 8 depending on the variety). It's also said to do well in urban pollution. It's said to grow easily from seed if the berries are crushed and planted while fresh (plant germinates the following spring). It is used for bonsai and should do well as a container plant on a sunny balcony.

The berries are good for cooking, and were a favorite in pre-Columbian times. Make sure, however, to leave plenty for our feathered and furry friends.

Have a great week

From The Monday Garden. Copyright © by Sue Sweeney. Reproduced with permission. 

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