Plant Profile: Serviceberry

One of the most beautiful plants that blooms this time of year is one of our natives, the Serviceberry. Driving through the state, we are greeted by beautiful white clouds drifting through the sides of the road and fields. Relatively common in the native landscape, it is often overlooked for the home garden, but should not be, as it brings so much beauty to wherever it is planted.

An extremely versatile shrub or small tree, Amelanchier adapts to all but the driest soils, and does very well in light shade, but can take full sun as long as they are protected from extreme drought and heat. They are understory trees, similar to Witch Hazel or the Pagoda Dogwood, and are happiest in a rather moist soil. We have two that are native to Maine; A. laevis, the Allegheny Serviceberry, is the smaller of our two natives, reaching 25-35 feet tall, and nearly 20 feet wide. A. canadensis, the Shadblow Serviceberry, can reach heights of nearly 50 feet, and almost as wide. Both species are excellent as specimen trees or focal points of the home landscape.

It is a plant with multi-seasonal interest. Every May, Serviceberry covers itself with a cloud of delicate, small-petaled white blossoms. These open just before the foliage comes out, and last for nearly two to three weeks. The foliage itself is quite beautiful, medium green above with silvery hairs underneath, and provides lovely dappled shade. After the blossoms fade, they are replaced by small berries, which turn from green to red to blue, and then are devoured by birds. They are a favorite food of Cedar Waxwing, a flock of which descend upon us every summer and very efficiently remove the fruits from the branches. In autumn, the leaves turn shades of gold, orange, and crimson, persisting for several weeks before falling. Winter interest comes from its smooth textured light gray bark and unique, fuzzy buds.

Our native serviceberries are white, but there are many other species and selections that have landscape and environmental interest as well. Though they are not native to this area, they are what we consider a “friendly” plant; they are non-invasive and provide an excellent food source for wildlife. The hybrid A. x grandiflora ‘Robin Hill’ and ‘Autumn Brilliance’ are beautiful treeform selections, boasting the same beautiful autumn foliage and versatility as the native species. The flowers of ‘Robin Hill’ open pale pink from pink buds, and then turn white as they age. Both of these trees are smaller, reaching only 15-20 feet tall and wide. Fruit falling will nearly never be an issue, as it is devoured as soon as it is ripe by all manner of wildlife.

A. canadensis ‘Glenform’ or ‘Rainbow Pillar’ is a selection of our native serviceberry that is excellent for a smaller space. It will grow to about 15 feet tall, but only about 6-8 feet wide. Perfect for planting at the corner of a porch or as a focal point in a perennial bed. The flowers themselves are a bit smaller than the species, but they make up in profusion what they lack in size. Fruitset is quite heavy as a result.

Serviceberry fruits are also touted as being a very tasty summertime treat for us humans, as well as the birds. Some varieties are somewhat dry and tasteless, but A. arborea, the Downy Serviceberry, apparently has very sweet fruits. I have never tried them myself, but I am intrigued… perhaps they will turn into a late afternoon snack, if I can fight off the Cedar Waxwings.