Serviceberries are beautiful native trees with tasty edible fruit. Recently I picked several fruits to eat with cereal and freeze for smoothies. Usually, the birds beat me to the fruit, but this year my tree has such a large crop that I was able to share.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), also called Juneberry, are native here. I often see them growing along streams and rivers. They are all in the apple family and thus has a pome fruit, not a berry. However, since we eat the entire fruit, it is often called a berry.
My tree is downy serviceberry (A. arborea). I love it because it has interest in all four seasons. Spring produces beautiful white flower clusters followed by small red fruit. Although very showy, the flowers usually last less than a week. Fruit is a half inch and round, changing from green to red to dark purple. The ripest fruit is quite tasty, reminding me a tart cherry candy.
Summer leaves are a bright green color. Downy serviceberry gets its common name because its young emerging leaves are covered with a dense white pubescence that turns smooth at maturity. The fall color is outstanding when leaves turn to bright shades of orange, red, and yellow. In the winter their interesting structure emerges, highlighted by the tree's smooth gray striped bark. This tree works well in small spaces since it only grows 15-25 foot tall, usually with multiple stems.
The other native amelanchier here is the smooth shadbush (A. laevis). A slightly smaller tree, this serviceberry has similar features to the downy serviceberry. However, its fruit turns purplish-black at maturity and are also quite delicious. Some people think it tastes like blueberries, and they are also a bird favorite.
The most flavorful amelanchier is the Saskatoon serviceberry (A. alnifolia). This vase-shaped, multi-stemmed shrub was used by native Americans as the main ingredient in pemmican. The 3-10 foot shrub is grown commercially for its healthy, tasty fruit. The fruit matures in July to a bluish-purple that resembles blueberries.
Amelanchiers are very adaptable and easy to grow. They prefer moist, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. These are full sun plants, but some do tolerate shade. Like other members of the apple family, they have the potential for numerous problems including rust, fire blight, powdery mildew, and leaf minors. My tree often fall colors early when stressed after a hot, dry summer.
Consider adding an amelanchier to your edible landscape, but be quick to harvest the fruit before the birds eat them.