972 Amelanchier canadensisCommon Names: serviceberry, Juneberry, shadblow, shadbush, shadbloom Family: Rosaceae (rose Family)
The serviceberries, genus Amelanchier, are deciduous shrubs or small trees that grow in the understory of temperate forests. Shadbush (A. canadensis) is a multistemmed shrub that gets up to 20 ft (6 m) tall with a dense, bushy spread up to 10 ft (3 m) across. The bush sends up numerous suckers and can become quite a thicket. Shadbush leaves are elliptic, about 2 in (5 cm) long and a very pretty white fuzzy when young, but becoming shiny green as they mature. In fall, shadbush leaves turn brilliant yellow, red or orange. The five petaled flowers are white and borne in erect clusters up to 2 (5 cm) long in early spring as the leaves are unfolding. They give rise to half inch bluish black fruits, which are quite showy as well as edible. Technically, the berrylike fruits are "pomes", as are apples, rose hips and other members of the rose family. They look a lot like large blueberries, though.
In the nursery trade Amelanchier canadensis is often confused with downy serviceberry (A. arborea) and Allegheny serviceberry (A. laevis). This is not surprising since the three species are very similar and even the botanists don't all agree on which species should be considered distinct. In general, A. arborea and A. laevis bloom earlier in spring and have larger flowers than A. canadensis. It is likely that most serviceberries in the trade are A. arborea.
Shadbush is native to eastern North America, on the coastal plain, from Quebec and Maine to Georgia. It usually grows in wetland situations such as swamps, pocosins, pine savannas and along streams.
CultureLight: Partial shade - filtered sunlight beneath a protective canopy of trees is perfect. Moisture: Although in the wild, shadbush is closely associated with wet soils, it does well in drier soils once it becomes established. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 7. Propagation: The seeds of all species of Amelanchier exhibit dormancy which must be overcome before they will germinate. This is accomplished by chilling at near freezing temperatures for 3-5 months. It also helps if the seeds pass through the stomach of a cedar waxwing; if this is inconvenient, they can be mechanically scarred or treated briefly with concentrated sulfuric acid. Greenwood cuttings taken in late spring and held under mist will root.
The little serviceberry shrubs are useful in naturalized plantings, especially in open woodlands, under tall oaks or pines. Their beautiful, but brief, early spring flowering beats all but the earliest shrubs and their fall foliage is first rate.
The fruits of shadbush (and other serviceberries) are said to be delicious, but often the wild birds, squirrels, raccoons and bears get most of them. The experts say the fruits taste better after they are cooked, which makes the seeds softer and brings out an almondlike flavor. Fresh and canned fruits are made into jams and pies. Native Americans and European settlers used the dried fruits to flavor pemmican, a type of hard, dried meat and suet that was preserved without salt.
There are a couple dozen species of Amelanchier in North America, Europe and Asia. Downy serviceberry (A. arborea) occurs in the eastern and middle U.S. as far south as northern Florida. Shadbush got its name from early settlers along the eastern U.S. coast who noted that it bloomed about the same time that the shad came up the rivers to spawn.
Steve Christman 6/3/03; updated 6/8/11, 5/18/15