When people first start gardening “for wildlife”, they are anxious to find plants that have berries for birds. They are usually so anxious that I think they would plant things regardless of looks if they knew it would feed the birds. Fortunately, serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) is one tree that is both beautiful and beneficial.
Serviceberry has a variety of common names based on when it blooms: Juneberry, serviceberry (or sarvisberry), and shadblow are just some of those names. Serviceberry was supposedly bestowed because it bloomed around the time of spring religious services after the ground had thawed enough to bury those that died over the winter. The name shadblow was due to the blooms coinciding with the running of the shad, an ocean fish that returns to freshwater rivers for spawning in the eastern part of the U.S.
There are several different species native to Georgia. We usually find Amelanchier arborea in the wild; it is known as downy serviceberry. Downy serviceberry grows up to 30 feet tall in ideal conditions of full sun and good moisture. In the nursery you can usually find Amelanchier canadensis, which is an attractive clumping form and rather shrub-like. You can also find hybrids of several species such as Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ or ‘Princess Diana’. Amelanchier x grandiflora has its own common name of “apple serviceberry” and is a cross between A. arborea and A. laevis.
Serviceberry blooms in late March or early April. The white flowers are arranged in long racemes. While each flower doesn’t last very long, I have found that the tree is in bloom over several weeks as one branch finishes and another starts. It is one of the earliest trees to flower in my area; the bright white blossoms light up the sunny edges of native woodlands.
The “berries” of this plant develop shortly after flowering, but they are not berries at all. As a member of the Rosaceae family, Amelanchier fruit is actually a “pome” just like an apple is. The fruit changes from green to pink to blue as it ripens. If you are wanting some for yourself, keep a close eye on the crop. I’ve had birds strip a tree of all fruit while it is still in the pink stage.
It makes a nice specimen tree in an open sunny area. The relatively open habit of the tree allows for perennials to be grow around the base; it would also pair nicely with a birdbath.
November is a great time to plant trees and shrubs in North Georgia. Call around to your local nurseries and see if they have serviceberry in stock or can order one for you.