Serviceberries of the Upper-Midwest / Plains States
Here in Wisconsin we have 4 species of serviceberry common in the wild: Amelanchier laevis (allegheny serviceberry), Amelanchier x grandiflora (apple serviceberry) , Amelanchier canadensis (shadblow serviceberry) , & Amelanchier stolonifera (running serviceberry). All four have delicious black fruit similar in size to a blueberry and are quite tasty! Birds also relish the fruit so the big problem is getting the fruit before they do. Serviceberry is also called juneberry although here in the upper Midwest they usually ripen in early July not June. All have white flowers & great fall color but the similarities end there.
Allegheny serviceberry is most abundant in the northern portions of Wisconsin/Minnesota. It grows the tallest (25’-30’) & can be somewhat narrow in youth. Fall color varies but can be copper to orange/red.
Shadblow serviceberry is always found as a short, multi-stem plant averaging 10’-15’ tall and 10’ wide. Fall color is usually yellow or orange. It is most abundant in the southern half of Wisconsin/Minnesota but can be found just about anywhere in these states.
Apple serviceberry grows 15’-25’ tall & fall color can be yellow, orange or red. Numerous selections of apple serviceberry have been made in the horticultural trade. ‘Cole Select’ is noted for great orange fall color while ‘Princess Diana’ & ‘Autumn Brilliance’ usually have a nice red fall color most seasons. The intensity of fall color can vary from year to year being spectacular sometimes & a bit dull other seasons depending on climatic conditions. These selections are readily available at garden centers/nurseries in either a single-stem or multi-stem form.
Running serviceberry is a short irregular growing plant averaging 4’ tall. While a Wisconsin native it is not as abundant as the other species mentioned. The fruit quality is excellent! Extremely juicy & sweet. It is somewhat difficult to find in the nursery trade as it is very slow growing. It is best sold as a container grown plant as it is somewhat difficult to successfully transplant balled & burlapped.
Going further west starting in western Minnesota thru the plains states & Prairie Provinces of Canada, Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon serviceberry) is prevalent. While attending a settler’s festival near Devil’s Lake, North Dakota one summer I had the great joy of eating serviceberry pie made from saskatoons picked locally for this event. Saskatoon serviceberry is commercially grown near Portage La Prairie, Manitoba for processing. It was a plant of great importance for the plains Indians & the settlers who came to these areas. If one reads thru the journals of Lewis & Clark it is interesting to read that the Shoshone Indians fed the Core of Discovery dried serviceberry cakes near the present day site of Three Forks, Montana.
There are other serviceberry species but these are some of the most common ones
in the upper midwest/plains area. While basically not an important commercial fruit
crop they are wonderful plants for their landscape value & also for their fruit. I always take full advantage of the fruit during the 7-10 day season they are ripe in July. As with most fruits it is interesting to note the difference in sweetness from serviceberry fruit in full sun or picked on plants in the shade. The fruit from plants growing in shade can be juicy but lack sweetness. Although serviceberry is shade tolerant please plant in full sun if you want the best quality fruit!
At the nursery I work at we grow hundreds of serviceberry plants balled & burlapped for the landscape market each year. We also have several types of serviceberries in containers. I hate to be partial to certain selections but I find the fruit of shadblow to be somewhat dry & never as sweet as others. I am very fond of a selection of A. alnifolia called ‘Regent’ which is a dwarf form (4’ tall) that bears very large, juicy fruit. In the grandiflora selections I find ‘Cole Select’ & ‘Autumn Brilliance’ too good to stop eating. Although ‘Princess Diana’ was selected in S.E. Wisconsin I cannot comment on the fruit quality as we usually have sold all our plants that we spring dug by July! Should time ever permit I will have to walk out to the growing fields to sample them when ripe. I assume they will be as good as all the other grandiflora types.
Paul Schwabe is a salesman in our Contractor Sales division. He holds a degree in horticulture and will be writing about some of his favorite and underused plants.