Amelanchier, The Service Tree

Ilona Erwin

I wondered why this tree was called the “Service Tree” or the “Serviceberry”. One story tells it that its bloom signaled when the graves could be dug in the spring in Appalachia. These types of trees are also called “Juneberry” and “Shadbush”, and it is in June that you find the pretty blue hued berries.

Whatever name it is known by, this small, ornamental tree is a choice addition to anyone’s homeplace.

The Serviceberry trees are lovely in the garden, in wild places, and I have seen their increased use in public landscapes. Blooming with drooping clusters of white five petaled flowers in late April, they give a brief and delicate show in my garden. Perhaps they would last longer in a less windy place. Their favored place would be as understory trees in moist to wet sites, but they tolerate my open wind-driven site, with its seasonal late summer dry spells.

The Berries
I have two types of these trees and have sampled the berries, which have the reputation to taste like blueberries. Don’t believe it. They have very little taste at all, but a very mild, mealy sweetness. Perhaps they are sweeter on different soils in a more sheltered environment. Since they were an important ingredient in the woods Indian fare, they also have a name or two derived from Native American languages, like “Saskatoon”. The berries, actually pomes, are a very pretty marble of color. In its early stages, the top is still a soft haze of green which melts into reddish magenta and then into the blueberry blue of the main fruit as it ripens; it then further ripens to a black, less attractive, color.

In the Garden

These are some of my favorite trees for the garden. The Amelanchier laevis is the one I would choose to plant more freely, as it is such a graceful tree with earlier flowering, better form, and showier flowers than than the A. alnifolia. I have several of those, and they were very slow to grow, never reaching any taller than I am. More of a shrub, which is how they are described. Both types of Amelanchier have endearing little white blooms and bear the purpled fruits. The Amelanchier alnifolia forms a little thicket, and I believe that is how it would best be situated: as a little thicket of shrubs under taller trees, maybe in a wilder part of the garden. Ideal for a bird sanctuary.

They are native trees, and very desirable for that reason, too. Their autumn color can be vibrant, with A. Laevis, again, the best of the type.

Originally, I bought my shrubbier Amelanchier as A. canadensis. The A. canadensis is said to grow from 6′ to 20′, but in my 20 years here it has been no larger than 4-6′. I believe it would be taller in a moist woods or in more swampy ground. But after researching, I think it is possible that I have an “alnifolia” that was mislabeled as a “canadensis”. Such things are known to happen! So I termed it such in these pages, even though the source I bought it from had it labeled as a ‘canadensis’.

These are multistemmed trees, and that is how I grow them, but the Amelanchier Laevis can be pruned into a single stem form. Except for the smallest gardens, consider using these trees in a grove effect of three to five trees.

  1. Native trees, a food source for wildlife
  2. Graceful flowering specimen trees
  3. Good for smaller gardens
  4. Beautiful autumn color

Service tree flowers

Service tree flowers

Amelanchier arborea, Downy Serviceberry

  • moist, well-drained, acidic soil
  • full sun to partial shade
  • 15′ to 25′ tall
  • hardy to zone 4
  • good urban tree

A. Canadensis, Thicket Serviceberry

  • Full sun to light shade
  • Moist, well-drained, acid soils
  • Zone 3 hardy
  • Suckers
  • Named cultivars available

Amelanchier alnifolia

  • Zones: 4 to 9
  • Sun to partial shade
  • Prefers moist, well-drained soil
  • 6 to 12 feet
  • 6 to 10 feet

Amelanchier laevis

  • Deciduous tree
  • 15′ to 25′ tall
  • 5′ to 10′ wide
  • Multi-stemmed
  • Named cultivars available

A. Laevis, Allegheny service berry. Grows taller than the others listed here

* Zones: 4 to 8
*Said to be short lived
*Partial to shade

Amelanchier trees need a winter chill to produce spring flowers. Orchardists have found that fruit bearing trees each need a certain number of chill hours, and Serviceberries are included in that requirement.

Once established, dormant plants should be pruned in mid-March. Flower buds of the Serviceberry are produced on tips and on second year old shoots.

june berries

Juneberries just ripening.

[ Fun Facts ]

At least 40 bird species (for example, mockingbirds, cardinals, cedar waxwings, towhees, Baltimore orioles) eat the fruit of Amelanchier species.[Plantguide pdf]

Juneberries were one of the famous traditional ingredients in pemmican, which was fat and powdered meat, or, fat, powdered meat and dried berries. Throughout the cooler areas of North America Indians made “pimekan.” It was not only a staple for the northern Indians but became the main ration for European backwoodsmen and traders. Interestingly the practice among the Indians of making pemmican did not go much farther south than Missouri or Nebraska, by Osage and the Omaha. The Missourians also mixed their Juneberries with cornmeal to make cakes, which was more in keeping with what southern tribes did. Southern Indians also made more stews and used more plants in those stews than the northern Tribes. [2]


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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.