[Tweeters] Types of Serviceberry

Hal Opperman hal at catharus.net
Wed Mar 4 10:45:04 PST 2009

In 1987, when we were in the earliest stages of suppressing large
areas of lawn in order to turn our yard into a proper garden built
around (but not exclusively of) native plantings, we wanted to include
serviceberry. At that time many native plants were hard to come by in
the Puget Sound-area nursery trade. Despite a long search we could not
find Amelanchier alnifolia or A. pacifica (the two are often treated
as strains of a single species). But we did locate a near relative, A.
canadensis, with a grower in the Fraser River floodplain near
Vancouver, B.C. We drove up and got three nice-sized ones, balled and
burlapped. They came with their paperwork, like a pedigreed dog;
without this "phytosanitary certificate" we could not have brought
them back to the U.S. We planted them along our driveway as the first
elements in what has become, over more than 20 years, a mixed-shrub
border. If left alone to do its thing, this serviceberry, native to
the East, grows as a multistemmed clump, very slowly spreading from
new shoots on the perimeter. Ours are now 20 feet tall and four feet
across. In winter the crisscrossing branches form an interesting
pattern, and in summer they provide a leafy screen. The flowers are
like small, all-white apple blossoms, spaced far enough apart among
the emerging leaves that they do not put on a show. Bees and other
nectaring insects love them. Humans would not call them fragrant but
they are not repellant either. They drop their petals in a week --
less, if hit by wind and heavy rain. The fruits are small, blackish
when ripe, and not worth fussing with for human use. Robins and other
birds clean them out quickly but always miss a few. Dry and puckered,
they become visible when the leaves drop and House Finches or other
birds pick them off. Autumn color is nothing special, just the generic
dull yellow we are used to seeing in western Washington, except once
in a while, when conditions are just right, foliage can turn orange
and scarlet, as it did this last fall. Young twigs and branches must
host great quantities of scale insects, tiny eggs, and who knows what
else, because the itinerant winter Bushtit flocks stop to glean on
every passage, several times a day. So, although we were disappointed
at first not to be able to plant the native serviceberry, we are very
pleased with our A. canadensis, which fits right in with the
neighborhood ecosystem.

Five years ago we planted an 'Autumn Brilliance' serviceberry as a
specimen, on a sunny bank in the back garden, and have let three stems
form. It is now a small, very open tree, about 8-10 feet high, growing
a foot a year. 'Autumn Brilliance' is a hybrid between two non-native
species, A. arboria and A. laevis. Foliage is more of a blue-green
color than the yellowish-green of A. canadensis. Fall foliage is
reliably spectacular, with all the tones of a hot campfire on a dark
night. The flowers are showier, more persistent, and definitely
fragrant. The fruits are plumper and tastier. Use by birds and bugs
seem much the same, except that the tree is still too small to offer
much in the way of foraging territory along its winter bark.

Hal Opperman
Medina, Washington
hal at catharus.net
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