One of the most charming views in early spring is the delicate, white flowers of shadblow serviceberry floating among the leafless trees. This deciduous, four-season charmer provides blooms for early pollinators, delicious fruit, brilliant autumn colors, and silvery bark. The common name “shadblow” refers to the tree’s bloom time, which coincides with the spawning of the shad fish, and “serviceberry” to the early European settlers’ tradition of planning funeral services at the same time the tree bloomed, signifying the ground had thawed. Lewis and Clark are said to have survived on the berries when other food was scarce.
Shadblow is ideal for small yards because of its slow growth, modest size, winter hardiness, and adaptability to many soil types. It has no serious problems, although rust, leaf spot, blight, and powdery mildew may occur.
Native habitats include wet bogs and swamps, lowlands, stream banks, and forests. Works well sited in woodlands, naturalized areas, rain gardens, ponds, patios, vertical spaces, and large containers. Mass groupings are especially effective.
Grows 15-25’ tall with a spread 15-20’.
Prefers full sun or light shade with at least 4 hours of sun.
Thrives in moist, well-drained, acidic soil; adapts to clay, loam, or sand. Prefers good drainage, but will tolerate some wet soil. Withstands drought, although fruit production will decrease and leaves may drop early.
Star-shaped flowers bloom in mid-April, followed by green berries that turn red, then purplish black.
Reddish-purple buds unfurl into small, dark green leaves. Fall colors are yellow, gold, orange, and red.
Trunk may be multi-stemmed as a large shrub or small tree.
Silvery bark becomes ridged and furrowed as the tree matures. No pruning is needed unless multiple stems are being removed to enhance shape. Regular removal of small suckers at the base of the shrub will maintain a cleaner, more formal look.
Shadblow serviceberry is a larval host for 101 lepidoptera, including viceroy, eastern tiger swallowtail, and red-spotted purple butterflies, and blinded sphinx (all pictured here with their caterpillars) and pale beauty moths. The early-season nectar is important for native bees and honey bees. The fruits are eaten by over 40 species of birds and by squirrels, chipmunks, and foxes.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Cherokees used serviceberry tea to help with digestion.
The fruits are often likened to blueberries and are loaded with antioxidants, fiber, and protein. Native Americans used them as a preservative when making pemmican, a type of jerky with meat and fat. The berries may be eaten raw, blended into smoothies, or cooked into jams, syrups, cobblers, muffins, and other baked goods. The berries may also be dried like raisins or brewed into wine.
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