Sunday, November 11, 2012

Serviceberry: A tree for you and the birds

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. 

Amelanchier arborea
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.

Amelanchier alnifolia
Mary Ellen (Mel) Harte,

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.

Amelanchier arborea
Serviceberry can have excellent fall color, ranging from golden-orange to bright red. I would definitely consider it to be a tree that offers 3 seasons of interest. 

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.


  1. I love serviceberry! After careful research, it was the tree that my husband and I selected to plant as a part of our wedding service. I agree that it does provide three seasons of interest!

  2. We have a serviceberry that we planted last spring. I am wondering however, if it is getting enough sun. It didn't bear any blooms and hence no fruit this year.

  3. I love serviceberries, and so do all my birds. I have four trees, 2 A. arborea and 2 A. allegheniensis, and they ripen at slightly different times which extends the birds available food supply. When my mom was a kid, growing up on a farm in TN, they used to make Juneberry pie.

  4. I have heard that Downy Serviceberry is not as good for eating as the Allegheny variety... though I have never tasted any of the berries myself. I have also never seen Allegheny for sale in GA and I'm wondering if this is too far south for it.

    Also.. wondering why you never see the berries for sale anywhere (I hear they are delicious)

    Karin: I am pretty certain serviceberries do great in shade... you may not get as many berries but I've seen them flowering in complete shade.

  5. I assume that by "Allegheny" serviceberry you two are referring to Amelanchier laevis. That one IS found in Georgia but I have not seen it for sale. Serviceberries do want 6+ hours of sun to flower best; the ones seen in the "shade" are probably getting sufficient filtered light; I often see them on the edges of woodlands where they probably get the early morning or late afternoon sun.

  6. Serviceberries are featured nicely at the North Carolina Arboretum just outside Asheville--my first introduction to them. My own specimen is only about 18" tall... but I have faith!