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In praise of the saskatoon / serviceberry / juneberry aka Amelanchier alnifolia

 
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All things Amelanchier alnifolia - common names include saskatoon, serviceberry, or juneberry

https://pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?LatinName=Amelanchier+alnifolia

Their root systems are amazingly deep and resilient, so if a saskatoon has volunteered on your property, you can bet it will survive all kinds of extreme conditions.

This is a photo of saskatoon berries on the north side of our north paddock. It's never been watered there, and is thoroughly choked by ninebark bushes. The nice thing about being on the north side of a north fence is that the berries ripen later than the others on the property - season extension via micro-climate!



A friend was talking to Paul and he said, 'I have this serviceberry bush over here, and I was reading about how great these saskatoons are in this plant catalog. I'm going to replace the serviceberry with a saskatoon!'
Paul said, 'you know those are the same thing, right?'
((mic drop))


This is one of the very first pictures I took back in spring of 2013 when Paul bought the two pieces of land that make up wheaton labs. I was enchanted by these lovely blossoms!



We have these threads in other places on permies about saskatoons:
Serviceberry Tree
Hawthorn and Serviceberry/Shadbush/Saskatoon hedge
use of serviceberry wood
Saskatoon berry monoculture to permaculture conversion possible?
Strawberry, Saskatoon, Bush Cherry project
Disease on Juneberry

I love the flavor of the berries. They are now my favorite berry to use in scones after I made these in the rocket oven:



The next two pictures are from Victor's post here:


~~~~~~

What other bits and bobs might you have about this wonderful plant?


 
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I've been on a pollinator kick lately, and I hear serviceberry is great for bees and other insects. I'm really excited about how drought tolerant it is too. That's also a big thing for me
 
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I have had the worst luck with them.  It's the only thing I remember planting that I can't get to grow well.  The rabbits snip them off if I don't fence them.  The ones I fence have grown to about 2 feet after 5 years...  I'm going to try some in a new spot and see if they do better.  
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Paul isn't as thrilled with the flavor of saskatoon as I am. They are a little different. A little less sweet, with seeds, though as I said above, I love them.

We have so many around here, though the birds some times get the good ones first, or in a severe drought there can be fewer, smaller berries. One year, I completely missed them (due to my attention being usurped by workshops and accounting)! I'd love more bushes around, closer to the house so I'd be more likely to notice when they're ready.

Though now I've noticed the older bushes have some sort of blight, rust or leaf spot that can affect the berries, too, making them less tasty. I might take that up in the Disease on Juneberry thread (the initial post in that thread might have been about a pest). Another good reason, IMHO, to plant more here. Maybe some will be more resistant, or not be as affected if they are in a location that they like.

I posted a few more pics of a huge service berry branch and what we did with it here.

And Paul is updating his spoon carving adventures in the use of serviceberry wood thread.

 
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At our site they (named cultivars) did not receive any particular care and it took more than 7 years to grow to a solid size and give a good crop.

The bees work them... to some extent. They are not a big hit but not useless either. I guess this is also very dependant on how many one has planted in a single spot because bees much prefer larger targets.

The birds like them a lot. So does our dog.

The berries are excellent for fresh eating but, to my taste, somewhat questionable for further use in cooking / infusing. That's because the marzipan taste of the seeds becomes overwhelming. But I guess one day we'll have a visitor that really likes marzipan and will be overjoyed to try something like that :)

 
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I grew up in northern British Columbia, and Saskatoons were our main berry. I love them. Pie, jam, syrup, fresh from the bush. Yum.
 
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I love them. I have three different species around. As mentioned the bees work them but they are not mobbed.

There are the A. canadensis, which are native here and I transplant them from the woods when they look healthy if I am clearing. Berries tend to be small, but that could be that they are wild berries. They are quite hardy, I have run them over and bushhogged them by mistake and they mostly come back. They never seem to get many fruit due to the cedars around here, but it must be intermittent because they are common understory plants and there must have been seeds and fruit at some point! The few fruits I have had are very almondy in flavor.

Then the A. arborea (downy serviceberry), which I have not seen natively here, but they seem to do really well. In this climate they grow about 4' a year! The leaves seem more resistant to the rust, but most of the berries still get yucked. These are not a named cultivar.

A. alnifolia (saskatoon) has not done well here at all. This did better out west. It may need colder or drier or something unlike here. Out west that and the Utah shadberry are common in the wild and delicious. IF someone wants four of them from my yard just bring a shovel.

The best thing about them for me is that they readily root as hardwood cuttings and I can make 20 a year or more for new areas. This and goumi are the main understory plants in my schema. I have several kinds of vibernum that I wanted in that role but they are not as robust.

I give this shrub 8 out of 10 purple berries. For the record, they are tastier than Aronia by a lot in my book, but that is a similar plant for you Jocelyn. When I get berries from my mongrel aronia horde, I will send some out.
 
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So far I’m a big fan. I have two varieties, still both small, but growing quickly once they hit their second year.  Yield in our harsh dry conditions here (Reno NV) has been pretty good.  Wife thinks they taste too mealy, but I like the variety.

Didn’t realize they would easily hardwood root; I guess it’s time to start massive propagation projects!
 
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Saskatoon are big here in western Canada.  Large acreages have been planted commercially.  Very drought tolerant but in dry seasons
Irrigation improves productivity and berry size and quality immensely.  The rust can be a problem that is hosted on Juniper and spread
To the Saskatoon.   You can graft pear Scions on to Saskatoon.  Some Saskatoon branches must be left to grow to keep the root alive
But the pear will be dwarfed and fruit earlier.   Also works with cotoneaster and mountain ash.  
 
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Someone MUST be working on a rust-resistant cultivar and/or hybrid of one of the many different US species of serviceberries. I want to put some in my food forest because I love them ... but I don't want to sign up for rust issues. The place I want to put them is pretty wet and also pretty shady, so either Amalanchier canadensis (better for wet) or A. laevis (better for shade) would be good, but either one might be stressed and prone to disease. (I have better spots, but they're for persimmons.) Googling hasn't found much info -- a few accounts of Autumn Brilliance potentially being somewhat resistant, and one where it's definitely susceptible (but in the PNW, so, no wonder). I'm in Connecticut.

Has anyone caught wind of a breeding project, or know of a bush near them that doesn't seem to be much affected, even though others nearby are? Any species would work if it was resistant to the main serviceberry issue.

Edited to add: I know this thread is mostly for A. alnifolia, but it's what popped up. Better than a new one!
 
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I love them so much, for pie or just to eat (once they’re really dark). Before I moved a couple years ago, I had the best spot to pick them, where I could fill a gallon pail just staying in pretty much one spot. They are still all over the place where I live now, and easy to see in spring because they bloom so early, but I have yet to find a good thick stand of them on public land where I can pick them. Very happy to learn they are easy to propagate!

I thought you might enjoy this essay:
https://emergencemagazine.org/essay/the-serviceberry/
 
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Here’s a video I made to help my farmers’ market customers get to know juneberries. https://youtu.be/KDmsQpVND6Q. Funny thing is I started off calling them serviceberries and switched to juneberries and sales improved tremendously. We are east coast, piedmont of Virginia and they are a great bush for bees, birds and people. The video shows clearly what the cedar rust looks like. The good thing is I don’t worry about it too much and just pick the unaffected ones. I sell them fresh and freeze dried at the market. The taste to me is a cross between a blueberry and a grape. It isn’t my favorite because I love tart (Goumi is my favorite), but for those that love mild fruit will enjoy juneberries tremendously!
 
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I'm trying cultivars Lee#8 and Northline. Didn't grow much at all in the first year. I wondered if it was heat. All you folks growing Service Berry in warmer climates than mine are encouraging me though!

Hopefully they do better than the Honeyberry I planted. Seems like my 5b zone is too hot for Honeyberry.
 
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Marisa Lee wrote:

I thought you might enjoy this essay:
https://emergencemagazine.org/essay/the-serviceberry/



I love that essay! I send it to people when they ask me to explain the gift economy.

When I used to live in Ontario (Toronto) a LOT of people had serviceberries as landscaping trees (including the city) and never picked the berries. My friend and I would tour around and harvest gobs of them.

Now that I'm in BC I mostly see varieties with less fruit, and smaller. Perhaps I need to finally plant my own.
 
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I love my Juneberries. Mine are the Amelanchier Canadensis, which blooms in April, [I believe the Alnifolia blooms in May] so if you are looking to please pollinators, this one might be a better fit for you. In Central Wisconsin, it is the first tree to bloom, and yes, the berries get ripe in June and are delicious. If both can be grown on the same parcel, you will have blooms and fruit for a longer season too. I can see these blooms from my bedroom window: The trees are bare one day, and the next you start noticing some clusters of blossoms, bright white over the gray trunks, and you feel: Ha, finally, spring has sprung!
For me, it is very valuable because I love blueberries but here, they need constant fussing to adjust the Ph. No such problem with the Canadensis. I'm not sure but it may also be hardier than the Alnifolia.
It is an *understory* tree, so you can grow it better in a mature forest than in full sunshine, provided it is not too dark there. If you have a lot of deer, you may want to protect the trunk because it has just the right 'give', just the right amount of spring,  to tempt deer to rub on the trunk without breaking. It keeps its slender trunk throughout too: I only had one that grew a little thicker than my forearm. That is a great advantage when you have these perfect fruit way up in the canopy. I grab a branch as high as I can and "walk" my fingers to the tips of the branches where the best fruit are. When I'm done, I just release my grip... and the rest can go to the birds.
After a while, the larger trunk will fail to deliver great berries, but hey you did leave all these little suckers right? they will now pick up the slack. Cut off the old trunk and you will be rewarded with half a dozen suckers. Keep the best 4-5 to cycle to be the best.
 
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Today a learned that Saskatoon = serviceberry! They are all over the place here! The song birds love them. And my chickens! They will hop up on a branch and shimmy over until it bends and everyone can feast on the berries. And then one poor hen get's launched when they hop off.
 
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C Murphy wrote:
When I used to live in Ontario (Toronto) a LOT of people had serviceberries as landscaping trees (including the city) and never picked the berries. My friend and I would tour around and harvest gobs of them.

Now that I'm in BC I mostly see varieties with less fruit, and smaller. Perhaps I need to finally plant my own.


I wonder if our PNW native varieties have smaller and less berries. I got two from a native plant sale in Seattle and the berries are very small, not at all what I'm seeing in the pictures posted in this thread.

We were at a lake in Idaho last summer and I was excited to find tall service berries covered with fruit. I was hoping my plants might aspire to be like those some day but maybe I should just replace them with a cultivated variety.
 
Ashley Cottonwood
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Jenny Wright wrote:

C Murphy wrote:
When I used to live in Ontario (Toronto) a LOT of people had serviceberries as landscaping trees (including the city) and never picked the berries. My friend and I would tour around and harvest gobs of them.

Now that I'm in BC I mostly see varieties with less fruit, and smaller. Perhaps I need to finally plant my own.


I wonder if our PNW native varieties have smaller and less berries. I got two from a native plant sale in Seattle and the berries are very small, not at all what I'm seeing in the pictures posted in this thread.

We were at a lake in Idaho last summer and I was excited to find tall service berries covered with fruit. I was hoping my plants might aspire to be like those some day but maybe I should just replace them with a cultivated variety.



I live is south eastern BC , there berries here a large and sweet if there has been the right amount of rain. Too much rain = not very sweet , too little = mealy.
 
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There's a different species of it, Amelanchier laevis, that's so common here that many people think it's native (but in fact it's from N. America). It's even called 'Drents Krentenboompje' in Dutch, which means: currant tree from Drenthe ... and Drenthe is the region where I live!
Maybe the flowers and the berries are somewhat smaller. When the berries are ripe, I love to eat them, or make jam with them.
 
Jenny Wright
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Ashley Cottonwood wrote:

I live is south eastern BC , there berries here a large and sweet if there has been the right amount of rain. Too much rain = not very sweet , too little = mealy.


I definitely notice a difference with the amount of rain but it's the difference of : enough rain=small and mealy or not enough rain=hard and dry like little pebbles 😂

I planted them 7 years ago and I've only ever gotten a miniscule handful of berries from them each year and it's not because of birds. Maybe they need more shade? They are in a spot that gets sun until late afternoon. Maybe I should move them to opposite side of the yard where they will get shade in the morning instead.
 
Ashley Cottonwood
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The saskatoons here are wild. It gets up to 45C in the Summer and August can frequently come and go without rain. I live on a southern exposed hillside at the mouth a of a valley so full sun... so a lot of sun seems to be there forte.
 
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I live in zone 2 which has very cold winters and the saskatoons grow very well here.  On our property we have lots of wild bushes and harvest them whenever we can.  We have noticed that there are years when the frost comes at inopportune times and kills the blossoms.  This means that there will be no fruit that year.  So we try to have enough on hand to last a couple of years in order to compensate for years where there is no harvest.
Our favorite way to process them is to freeze them in bags so that they are easily removed when wanted.  They make a great topping for porridge or granola.
Another great idea is to mix them with equal portions of stewed rhubarb, add some sweetener and then heat the entire batch until it bubbles. Then can them in jars. The resulting fruit is almost like pie filling. Topped with cream, this makes a delightful dessert!
 
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Tj Jefferson wrote:A. alnifolia (saskatoon) has not done well here at all. This did better out west. It may need colder or drier or something unlike here. Out west that and the Utah shadberry are common in the wild and delicious. IF someone wants four of them from my yard just bring a shovel.



You are in nearly exactly the same climate zone as am I, and I can report similar experience.  I planted several saskatoons, choosing this species because at least one named cultivar is available with a short, bushy growth habit.  This happened to be what I needed.  All other serviceberry varieties are understory trees, so far as I know.

While they are still growing many years later, they cannot be said to have thrived here at all, and I don't think they've ever yet fruited.  I am willing to wager that, as is the case with my own, your property is just too hot to grow these.  The nurseries say that we are just at the edge of the acceptable range, but we all know those maps are optimistic.  At the height of each summer, my serviceberries loose all of their leaves.

I will likely eventually replace all of mine, once I've identified a more suitable candidate to take their spots.  
 
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Jeanne Barrett wrote:I live in zone 2 which has very cold winters and the saskatoons grow very well here.  On our property we have lots of wild bushes and harvest them whenever we can.  We have noticed that there are years when the frost comes at inopportune times and kills the blossoms.  This means that there will be no fruit that year.  So we try to have enough on hand to last a couple of years in order to compensate for years where there is no harvest.
Our favorite way to process them is to freeze them in bags so that they are easily removed when wanted.  They make a great topping for porridge or granola.
Another great idea is to mix them with equal portions of stewed rhubarb, add some sweetener and then heat the entire batch until it bubbles. Then can them in jars. The resulting fruit is almost like pie filling. Topped with cream, this makes a delightful dessert!



Do they really taste better than blueberries?
 
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Hi Inge!

I'm curious if other people in Drenthe realize they are edible?

In Maastricht the city has been planting lots and lots along the paths, roads and other green spaces. I'm pretty certain just for ornament. The birds and I appreciated them though, along with the kids in my family who I introduced to the delight of foraging Juneberries.

I actually prefer them to blueberries, which says a lot as I love those too.

I moved to coastal Spain last autumn and have started food forests here. We'll be testing some Amelanchier in our projects as well, since A. ovalis is native to the Mediterranean region.


Inge Leonora-den Ouden wrote:There's a different species of it, Amelanchier laevis, that's so common here that many people think it's native (but in fact it's from N. America). It's even called 'Drents Krentenboompje' in Dutch, which means: currant tree from Drenthe ... and Drenthe is the region where I live!
Maybe the flowers and the berries are somewhat smaller. When the berries are ripe, I love to eat them, or make jam with them.

 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Erik van Lennep wrote:Hi Inge!

I'm curious if other people in Drenthe realize they are edible?

In Maastricht the city has been planting lots and lots along the paths, roads and other green spaces. I'm pretty certain just for ornament. The birds and I appreciated them though, along with the kids in my family who I introduced to the delight of foraging Juneberries.

I actually prefer them to blueberries, which says a lot as I love those too.

I moved to coastal Spain last autumn and have started food forests here. We'll be testing some Amelanchier in our projects as well, since A. ovalis is native to the Mediterranean region.


Inge Leonora-den Ouden wrote:There's a different species of it, Amelanchier laevis, that's so common here that many people think it's native (but in fact it's from N. America). It's even called 'Drents Krentenboompje' in Dutch, which means: currant tree from Drenthe ... and Drenthe is the region where I live!
Maybe the flowers and the berries are somewhat smaller. When the berries are ripe, I love to eat them, or make jam with them.



Hi Erik. Most people don't know they're edible. I think they are planted here (in parks) for the birds. In general people do not eat anything 'wild'. But I do (and I know a few more)
 
Marisa Lee
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Scott Obar wrote:

Jeanne Barrett wrote:I live in zone 2 which has very cold winters and the saskatoons grow very well here.  On our property we have lots of wild bushes and harvest them whenever we can.  We have noticed that there are years when the frost comes at inopportune times and kills the blossoms.  This means that there will be no fruit that year.  So we try to have enough on hand to last a couple of years in order to compensate for years where there is no harvest.
Our favorite way to process them is to freeze them in bags so that they are easily removed when wanted.  They make a great topping for porridge or granola.
Another great idea is to mix them with equal portions of stewed rhubarb, add some sweetener and then heat the entire batch until it bubbles. Then can them in jars. The resulting fruit is almost like pie filling. Topped with cream, this makes a delightful dessert!



Do they really taste better than blueberries?



No. I mean, they taste better than huge grocery store blueberries, but not better than wild blueberries. Saskatoons are great, and I love them, but their flavor is really subtle.
 
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