Serviceberry signals the start of spring

Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) is one of the first trees to flower in the spring, producing a very beautiful white bloom usually during the first or second week of April. This small to medium-sized tree is often found in upland forests that are dominated by the oaks and hickories. There are numerous species of serviceberry, but the Downey serviceberry is the species native to Frederick County.

Downey serviceberry

There are a number of cultivars present as well; serviceberry is a common ornamental, appropriate for planting in small areas. It has smooth bark and pointed buds, so it sometimes is confused with a small beech tree in the winter, but the buds are smaller on the serviceberry and serviceberry do not retain their brown leaves throughout the winter like most beech. The leaves of the two are somewhat similar also, but the veins are much more prominent on the beech.

The serviceberry has strong, heavy, pliable, reddish wood that has been historically used for tool handles or fishing poles. This tree produces a reddish berry in June that is edible, somewhat tart and can be used in pies -- if you can collect them before the birds do.

Serviceberry has many names and is steeped in folklore. The blooming of the "service" berry signaled an end to winter so that traveling ministers could reach remote communities to perform weddings or funerals. Another possible reason for the name was that the blooming of the tree corresponded to the thawing of the earth so that those that had died over winter could be buried.

Amelanchier is also known as shadbush, because the tree's bloom corresponds with shad fish runs up the river. Another common name of this young tree is Juneberry, since the fruit ripens on the tree in June. For such a small tree the serviceberry sure has generated a lot of stories.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 4/10/2011