Connecticut Garden Journal: Serviceberries | Connecticut Public Radio

Connecticut Garden Journal: Serviceberries

Mar 30, 2017

Back in colonial days, when someone died in winter, they had to store the body until the ground thawed in spring. 

The way early settlers knew the ground had thawed enough to dig a grave was to wait until a certain tree started blooming in the forest. Then they could have a funeral service.

What tree is it? It's the serviceberry, or Amelanchier. It's also called the shade bush, because when it flowers in spring, the shad are spawning up the Connecticut River. 

Serviceberry is a tough, native tree that's often the first to bloom in spring. It grows on the edge of the forest, so it's shade tolerant.

It can grow 20 or so feet tall, but there are other species and multi-stemmed selections that grow shorter.

The white flowers give way to edible blue berries that birds love. These berries also are tasty to us to eat. They have a wild blueberry/blackberry flavor.

You just have to be quicker than the birds to harvest them.

Breeders in Saskatchewan have been crossing serviceberry varieties to produce ones on shorter trees with bigger, tastier fruits. If you want to grow some serviceberries to eat, look for varieties of Saskatoons, such as Smoky, that only grow six to eight feet tall.

Serviceberries are one of my favorite foodscape plants. The trees are tolerant of many different soil types, hardy, and attractive.

White flowers, blueberries, and red fall foliage make these trees great specimens in the yard, or grouped with other small trees and shrubs in an island planting. You can also grow them, like in nature, along the wood's edge.

Next week on the Connecticut Garden Journal, I'll be talking about Easter lilies. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.