Amelanchiers are early flowering understory trees offering four-season interest. Delicately drooping, strap-like, fragrant white flowers in spring appear just before the leaves unfurl; small red-purple berries in summer; reddish-orange fall color; and gray bark in winter. Leaves are entire with a serrate margin. Branches are produced in flat planes. Bark is smooth but may fissure with age. Amelanchier flowers have 5 petals and stamens in multiples of 5. Berries resemble (and taste somewhat like) blueberries but are on a long pedicel. Berries have a glaucous (waxy) coating; they emerge red and age to a purplish-blue.
These tough trees are tolerant of a wide range of soils, salt, drought, heat, compacted soil, air pollution and a wide range of pH. Serviceberries work equally well in rain gardens, as an understory tree, at the forest edge and near pavement. Root suckers are common, and if not removed, will result in a shrubby growth habit for the plant.
Amelanchiers support over 100 species of moth and butterfly caterpillars, including the red-spotted purple and viceroy. Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to the flowers. Amelanchiers are a special value to native bees. The fruit is eaten voraciously by songbirds, so if you want to try a berry, you need to be quicker than those hungry birds!
Amelanchier species are somewhat difficult to tell apart, since many look very similar and they hybridize quite easily. What’s the difference between the two we offer (A. arborea and A. laevis)? The biggest difference is the height: A. arborea tops off at 25 ft., while A. laevis can grow to 40 ft. Other than that, not much! The leaves of A. arborea, or downy serviceberry, are downy (or fuzzy) and green when they first emerge in spring. The leaves of A. laevis are hairless, and new spring foliage has a purplish tint which fades to green in summer. Both species age to the same beautiful fall color. Berries of A. laveis are reported to be tastier (sweeter and juicer) than the berries of A. arborea, but the birds attack both berries with the same enthusiasm!
Grows at a medium rate, with height increases of 13–24″ per year.
Height: 15-40 ft.
Spread: 15-40 ft.
Bloom time: April
Sun: full sun to part shade
According to Rutgers University, Amelanchier sp. are “seldom severely damaged” by deer.
photo credit: Rob Routledge