The awesome amelanchier (am-meh-LANG-kee-er)
is one plant that will knock your socks off when you see it in flower, with berries and with its great fall color. There are over 20 species native to the United States, but I will be concentrating on 4 species that are readily available in your local nursery. Amelanchier has several common names, including Shadblow, Serviceberry, Juneberry, Allegheny Serviceberry, Downy Serviceberry, and Running Serviceberry, among others! The number of common names for this genus is one reason for carrying a list of the botanic names with you when you are shopping for plants! Most amelanchiers are small understory trees that can also be grown as large rounded shrubs. One reason to develop the tree form of these wonderful plants is the beautiful gnarled and lichen covered trunks of the older trees. All amelanchiers have large edible fruit that were used by the Native Americans as a natural sweetener and dessert. Below is a recipe for Serviceberry jelly from the Wallace W Hansen Native Plant Nursery in Salem, Oregon (http://www.nwplants.com/plants/shrubs/ame_alm_index.htm). They have several other recipes listed in which the berries of the Amelanchier alnifolia or A. canadensis berries are the main ingredient.
9 cups ripe serviceberries
3/4 cup of sugar per cup of juice
1/2 cup water
3 oz liquid pectin
Stem and wash berries. Place into saucepan and crush a few. Add water. Simmer fruit over low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes. Strain the cooked berries through a jelly bag and recover the juice. Measure juice and place in saucepan with sugar. Mix well and place over a high heat. Bring to a boil and add pectin. Return to boil and hold it for 1 full minute. Skim foam and pour into hot, sterile jelly jars and seal.
As I said earlier, there are several wonderful attributes of the amelanchier that makes it imperative to add these wonderful plants to your native garden. Not only are they great landscape trees but their ability to attract hordes (yes, hordes) of cedar waxwings in their search for juicy berries makes for a wonderful display when the berries are ripe. I have a large Amelanchier canadensis in my backyard that is 'attacked' for about a week every summer by a cloud of cedar waxwings. When they are here, even the raucous blue jays stay away until these wonderful and unusual birds have gorged themselves and flown away. They come in the early morning and will eat for over an hour, fly away and come back for more in the late afternoon. They are often pictured or painted eating amelanchier berries and the bright red-purple berries and bright green leaves of the amelanchier are great background for these colorful birds. One problematic situation involving the cedar waxwing has recently been discussed by scientists and birders alike; the adult cedar waxwing has a yellow bar across the bottom of its tail called the terminal tail bar. The yellow of the bar comes from the carotene produced by the plants the birds eat and is taken in by the birds when they eat the berries. In some populations, this yellow terminal tail bar is turning orange due to the consumption of EXOTIC honeysuckle fruits instead of the native berries important to its diet. No one yet knows of the consequences of this alternate diet, except for the change in tail feather color, but if the tail feather color is changing so are other things within the physiology of the bird. You can see the different colors of the tail bar in these two pictures of cedar waxwings. The change in the tail bar color of the mature cedar waxwing should, I hope, give you pause as you read this blog. What is the significance? Who knows? Why are polar bears dying? Who knows? We can't do much about the polar bears here in suburbia, but we can do something about the changing morphology of the cedar waxwing!
OK, OK - give me a minute to get down off my soapbox again!
I hope by adding information on how exotic plants have changed our environment, you can see why the addition of native plants in your garden will help our wildlife survive the onslaught of exotic species in our environment. Maybe we can't 'change the world' but how satisfying is it to know that you can help save native song birds in your own neighborhood? Or save some native butterflies, moths, even toads and frogs with your actions in your own backyard? Something to ponder!
ANYWAY, back to the awesome amelanchier!
Four great amelanchier species for your garden:
Amelanchier canadensis - known in the eastern United States as the Shadblow Serviceberry - is considered a small tree with a mature height of 25 feet. It has numerous trunks and can be left as a large shrub but looks best when its mature bark is exposed. You can see the twisting, entwined bark with lichen growing on it in this picture of a mature trunk of the Amelanchier canadensis. This wonderful small tree is native from Maine down to the Carolinas (Amelanchier alnifolia is its cousin on the west coast of the US) and usually grows in wet, boggy areas. It is perfect in low, wet areas of your yard but will do just as well in a dryer spot. It is an understory tree but will also love the full sunshine in your backyard. The sunnier the location, the more berries you will see each summer. Prime conditions for this tree is a wet, sunny spot near a window where you can watch for those berries! It can grow as tall as 20 feet and has a great golden color in the fall. The flowers are scented and the scent will waft through your open windows in the spring, 'forcing' you to spend some time in its presence watching the bees pollinate those flowers and setting the scene for your mad dash to the tree to collect ripe berries before the birds descend! All in all, one awesome tree for your garden!
Amelanchier alnifolia is the west coast cousin of Amelanchier canadensis. This tree has berries that look like blueberries and is fantastic as a jelly! It is called the Saskatoon Serviceberry or Western Serviceberry and is found in all of Canada, California north to Washington State, over to Iowa and Minnesota and down to Colorado. It is considered a shrub instead of an understory tree and only reaches a height of 10 feet. This is a great little shrub for those of you on the west coast and will feed your native birds, insects and animals just like Amelanchier canadensis here in the east.
Another great amelanchier is Amelanchier laevis, or Allegany Serviceberry. This 15-25 foot tree is very similar to Amelanchier canadensis, but has bright red berries instead of the red-purple berries of canadensis. . Look at the wonderful bright, bright red of these berries and the lichen encrusted trunks of the mature tree.
Add to that the wonderful yellow-orange to red fall color and you have a specimen tree that will give you four seasons of great texture and color. There are several cultivars of Amelanchier laevis, just as there are great cultivars of the other species mentioned here, and I usually recommend the species over the cultivars of amelanchier, BUT A. laevis 'Snowcloud' is outstanding with its tall narrow shape, blue-green foliage and orange fall color. If you can find A. laevis 'Snowcloud', buy it! It will make a wonderful 'splash' in your garden and will still feed the animals!
Last but by no means least is Amelanchier arborea, the Downy Serviceberry, so named because of the downy feel to the emerging leaves. Downy Serviceberry is not easily found in the trade, but I mention it here because it is one of the parents of Amelanchier x grandiflora, a natural hybrid of Amelanchier arborea and Amelanchier laevis. Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance' is a 'Plant of Merit', named by the MBG Kemper Center of the Missouri Botanic Gardens at the University of Missouri. It has sweetly fragrant spectacular flowers that are larger than the species, brilliant blue-green leaves that turn to orange-red in the fall and is more tolerant of drought than its two parents. It was bred for suburban and urban areas and will not take up as much space as the species. All in all, a great hybrid. The name 'Autumn Brilliance' is well-suited to this great cultivar of a natural hybrid. It should be available in most specialty nurseries in the spring but I would call around to find this wonderful tree.
Well, there they are - The Awesome Amelanchiers!
NEXT: The Mystical Magnolias!