Serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.) are small trees or large shrubs that typically grow to around 10-15 feet tall, but occasionally can be taller. There are multiple different species of serviceberry throughout the U.S. and Canada. In fact, every state except for Hawaii has a native species of serviceberry. In Kentucky, our two most common native species are downy serviceberry (A. arborea) and Allegheny serviceberry (A. laevis). All of the serviceberries can hybridize which can make identifying them to species challenging.
Serviceberries bloom in the early spring, typically late-March to late-April. I tend to think of it as the timeframe in which Easter can fall. Actually, the timing of its blooms is why it is called “serviceberry” (or “sarvisberry” in some parts of the country). Back in the time of the circuit rider preachers, the preachers often couldn’t get to the more remote or mountainous areas during the winter. People in those areas used the blooming of the serviceberries as an indication of when the preachers would be returning to hold service or sarvis. Another common name is “shadbush,” because they bloom about the time that the shad or small fish start running in the creeks again.
The serviceberry’s bright white flowers provide an early source of pollen and nectar for honey bees and many species of native bees, as well as some of the pollinating flies and beetles. The pollinated flowers will develop into a berry-like fruit that resembles blueberries. Over 40 species of birds have been documented eating the fruits. Several species of mammals also eat the fruit and deer will browse the leaves. In addition, serviceberry is an important host plant for the caterpillars of several species of butterflies and moths.
Serviceberries grow in a variety of habitats and can be planted as native ornamental trees. The early flowers, dark blue-black fruit, and bronze fall foliage provide year-round interest while also benefiting wildlife. Beyond the wild-type varieties, several cultivars have been developed and can be found in the horticulture trade. If you are looking for an early-blooming, small tree that is good for pollinators and songbirds, then I highly recommend looking into one of the serviceberries as an option.
This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.
Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.