In our region there is currently a plant in fruit with tasty red or purple berries and with a multitude of common names. The genus of this large shrub or small tree is Amelanchier. Species common in our area include Amelanchier canadensis, A. arborea and A. laevis.
The common names for Amelanchier truly abound. They include: shadbush, shadblow, Juneberry, serviceberry, sarvisberry, and bilberry. The “shadbush” name comes from the loose fact that Amelanchier plants in the New England area often bloom around the same time that American shad make their ways from the Atlantic ocean up freshwater rivers and streams to spawn. “Juneberry” refers to the general month that Amelanchier fruits in our area are likely to be ripe (as they are in many local places right now!). “Serviceberry” refers to the similarity of the fruit to that of the European plant Sorbus.
Amelanchier Is one showy plant. It sports showy, fragrant white flowers in spring and showy, brilliant red to deep purple fruits come summer. Fall foliage is ablaze in reds and oranges, while the smooth gray bark is pleasantly haunting in winter. Amelanchier is also one easy native plant to grow, tolerating a range of soils and light conditions. In your travels, you may come upon it in mountain forests, just about anywhere in the Piedmont, and on the secondary dunes of barrier beach islands (aka “the Shore.”)
Ecologically, Amelanchier is a valued nectar source for a wide variety of insects. Its nutritious fruit is readily eaten by many birds and mammals. Among the mammals attracted by the berries are humans, who use the fruit for jams and pies. The most fun thing about encountering ripe serviceberries is that you can spontaneously pop them in your mouth. For reference, check out our ProFESS program video, which features local school kids devouring the tasty fruit in a Philly park. And for those who are nutrition-minded, serviceberries are loaded with riboflavin, manganese, biotin, iron, and fiber. I highly recommend them over chewable vitamins.
So before the birds swipe all those delectable Juneberries, get out now and find yourself a free healthy snack. Or, better yet, head out to a local native plant nursery (like ours!), and pick up a couple of these beautiful, edible, hardy natives.