Serviceberry is a Tasty windbreak


I tire of the same old landscaping everywhere, especially when it won’t tolerate our growing conditions. So often we see ornamental pear trees ravaged by our strong winds. Other more adaptable species could be used, but familiarity and cheap prices usually win out.
When it comes to small flowering trees and tall hedges I’d like to see more serviceberry

serviceberry foliage

serviceberry foliage

(Amelanchier sp.)trees planted. Also called shadbush, they have beautiful white flowers like the pears but without the fetid odor. They also have relatively strong wood that is far less susceptible to wind damage.
Serviceberries can sometimes grow 30 feet tall, but 15-18 feet is typical. They prefer a slightly acid soil and full to partial sun. Trees grow in full shade but won’t flower or fruit very much. Plants are also tolerant of wet soil. Butterflies and bees like the nectar. Since trees flower so early in spring they could be a valuable nectar and pollen source for beekeepers.
Serviceberries are native plants, though not common in this area. At least 20 different Amelanchier species inhabit North America. They are great for naturalizing. Fall foliage color ranges from yellowish gold to an orange-red. Trees may be single or multi-trunk form.
Best of all, they have edible fruits. These sweet morsels look like half ripe blueberries. They remind me a little of large huckleberries. Some say their flavor favors apple. Typical size is about a half inch in diameter.
Elongated seeds are somewhat larger than those in blueberries but not as big as blackberry seeds. Mature trees can bear several pounds of fruit. Individual plants can be productive for over 30 years. Some folks call them Juneberries, but fruits ripen in mid to late May in this area.
Fruit production is usually concentrated into a short time window, which is good. However, you have to be ready when the fruit is. There is another problem. Birds love them. So don’t other wildlife. Again, that’s not a concern if you wish to attract birds to your property and don’t care about harvesting fruit. The trees are rarely browsed much by deer.
When I lived in Maine and West Virginia I knew where many wild ones grew. I’d bring several tarps along and spread them under each tree. Then I’d climb as high as I could and shake the whole crown. Often the birds beat me to them and pickings were slim. Occasionally I’d hit the jackpot.
I’d pour the fruits into a large bucket and take them to a windy place or in front of a large box fan and winnow them. Pouring the fruit back and forth from one container to the other a few times was all that was necessary to filter out leaves, twigs and other debris.
Fruits have a short shelf life, so have a plan of action. They freeze and can well and can also be dried similar to raisins. Substitute them in any recipe calling for blueberries. Color will be less intense and flavor slightly different, but quality of the product won’t suffer.

serviceberry fruits

serviceberry fruits

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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