You may not be familiar with serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), but I know you’ve seen it. It’s the earliest tree to bloom in the woods (late March to early April) and is very striking on a hillside forest still barren and brown from winter.
These showy flowers are small, have five petals, and hang from the tree in drooping clumps. The tree itself is usually small (20-30 feet tall), with smooth, gray bark. The leaves are two to three inches long and heart shaped at their base, with white hairs on the underside.
Serviceberry has several names, mostly referring to when it blooms.
Around here it is called “Sarvis” or “Service tree” and probably originated from the fact that it blooms around the spring memorial services. Another name is Shadbush, due to its flowering during the time that shad run upstream. Still another name is Juneberry, from the small red-purple berries it produces during the early summer.
Serviceberry is not a commercially valuable species, but it is very beneficial to wildlife. The berries feed many varieties of birds and small mammals, and provide browse for deer. It can also be a good landscaping plant, providing an early and showy bloom, delicate leaves, smooth bark, and berries that are popular with songbirds as well as humans (use them like blueberries).
Serviceberry will grow in almost any location and is easy to start from either seeds or cuttings. There are commercially grow varieties available, but saplings can be successfully transplanted from the woods, with permission from the landowner as always.
Steve Roark is the Area Forester in Tazewell, Tenn. for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.