There are thousands and thousands of berries on the Serviceberry tree near the front porch of my house. It was only planted six, maybe seven years ago, but there are thousands of berries on it right now. It is unlikely I will harvest more than a handful.
It is a pretty little multi-trunked tree. I chose it as a landscape planting for its early spring white flowers and ease in pruning to keep small. It is quite attractive in the mulched bed, where it was planted to add vertical interest near the white pillar holding up the roof over the porch. I’ve planted them before, as understory trees back by the woods. They have a lovely red fall color, too, but it doesn’t usually last long with the hot dry summers we have in our corner of Ohio. Amelanchier Serviceberry is a small native tree, or shrub, and works well for a naturalized look. In the wild, they tend to grow a little misshapen, for they are loved by deer and smaller mammals. One eats the twigs and the other may incidentally break branches in pursuit of berries.
I like that this tree in my yard is part of early American culture. Its many names reflect this, perhaps some in myth. “Serviceberry” is said to be named so because it bloomed when the ground thawed enough to bury and have funeral services for people who passed away during winter. Perhaps a little less morbid is the thought that it bloomed just when the weather cleared up enough for traveling preachers to begin circuit riding. Then again, it may have simply reminded new immigrants of the European “Service” tree back home, with similar white flowers. Amelanchier is also known as “Shadblow”because it blooms at the same time a particular river herring (American Shad) leaves the ocean to run and spawn(blow) in New England freshwater rivers. “Juneberry” names the blueberry-like fruit. Birds also adore this fruit, which is why I must watch carefully to get any for myself.
The berries do not ripen all at once, however, the birds don’t seem to mind them on the unripe side. When I do catch a small berry or two, they look and taste like wild blueberries. I have never managed to catch enough for culinary purposes, but I hear one uses them in any recipe that call for blueberries.
There are enough berries on the tree to delight many birds for quite sometime. However, I am alerted to the harvest when they begin to fight over the last few. One year, I was intrigued by the sudden eruption of loud squawking just outside my family room window. I jumped out of my chair and ran outside to find five robins in that small tree, arguing over the last of the berries. Ha! I got about half a cup that year. This year I will tie a bit of tulle around a few branches and not care what the neighbors think. Surely the birds won’t begrudge me a muffin or two this season.